Why Olympic Winners Bite Their Medals?


At the winner’s podium, while the spotlights, cameras and eyeballs are focused at them, Olympic winners must be living a dream. Or finally validating that hard work and sacrifice eventually pays off.

Oh Jin Hyek of Korea bites his gold medal after winning the men’s Individual Archery gold medal match on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Photo credit: London2012.com
We can only hope all those who trained and sacrificed hard get the same reward. But there can only be one winner, and two sidekicks in the podium.

But it seems that a common scene that triumphant grins in front of the camera also come with pretending to chomp on their hard-won medals.

David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, says it’s merely to satisfy the requests of media people, limited with options to create a more eye-catching image.

And why not? Medals are likely hung on winners’ necks by the time photo sessions take place so there’s a few options to do with those medallions. Cover one eye? Kiss the metal? There’s not a lot of options around. So taking a bite at their prized possessions becomes among the most popular things to do, along with raising the flowers/teddy bears that come with these medals.

Cuba’s Leuris Pupo bites his gold medal, during the victory ceremony for the men’s 25-meter rapid fire pistol event at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, in London.
“It’s become an obsession with the photographers,” says Wallechinsky, co-author of “The Complete Book of the Olympics.” “I think they look at it as an iconic shot, as something that you can probably sell. I don’t think it’s something the athletes would probably do on their own.”

Biting medals could signify ownership — teeth marks serve as signatures — and even if those marks won’t show, it may improve the value of a medal “once bitten by then Olympic champion and now a sports legend” should the medals find their way at Sotheby’s.

Is it a case of curious athletes who wish to verify if gold medals are pure gold or are replicas of golden chocolate coins? Many Olympic winners may not be aware, but this year’s gold medal consists of 1.34%, or about 6 grams, of gold. The remainder is 93% silver and 6% copper, according to a CNN article. Testing medals for authenticity is perfectly fine; it just so happens that winners get to test them while they pose for photographers. For the record, solid gold medals were only offered in 1904, 1908 and 1912 Olympics.

U.S. gymnasts McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, Alexandra Raisman, Gabrielle Douglas and Jordyn Wieber bite their gold medals at the Artistic Gymnastics women’s team final at the 2012 Summer Olympics, on July 31, in London. Matt Dunham / AP
Winners biting their prizes aren’t limited only on Olympic medals or happen only in the Olympics. Rafael Nadal admits that he prefers to biting his winning trophies than kissing them. Sadly, injury deprived from from taking part in the London Olympics and get a chance to bite a medal at the podium.

As Olympic winners sing their national anthems, pose with silver and bronze medalists, photographers may shout “bite your medal” and athletes would gladly oblige. Hopefully, over excitement doesn’t ruin the party. Biting your medal a bit too much is more likely to crack a tooth than bend a medal.

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