Have you ever watched the Olympics before and wondered why the athletes bite their medals? I know I have. It always seemed kind of strange to me that Olympians would deface the medals that they poured their lives into obtaining, but researching the topic answered all my questions.
So why do Olympians bite their medals?
Olympians bite their medals primarily because it has become an iconic shot requested by photographers and the media. The biting of the medals also implies that they’re real because gold, silver, and copper are soft enough for someone to bite into and leave a mark. Most Olympians don’t actually bite their medals.
After researching the topic further, it was funny to learn that the tradition of Olympians biting their medals was actually started by photographers.
The photos have become too iconic for photographers to pass up the opportunity to snap these photos and the photographers usually aren’t shy in their pursuit of these photos.
If you’d like to learn more about what Olympic medals are made of and when they started getting awarded, we encourage you to read the rest of this article.
The Reason Why Olympians “Bite” Their Medals
Olympic medal winners have been “biting” their medals for as long as we can remember. But why? Well, most of the time the Olympians aren’t actually biting their medals.
The Olympians usually “bite” their medals because the photographers/media request them to do so. It makes for an iconic shot that’s sure to be shared across the internet.
Another reason Olympians chomp down on their medals is to prove the metals are authentic. Gold, for example, is a soft and malleable metal that a tooth is capable of indenting.
Back in the day, people would bite into gold to prove it was real. The Olympians are implying that their medals are real by acting like they’re biting into them. With that said, each Olympic gold medal isn’t made of just gold.
In fact, the last solid gold medal was awarded in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Each gold medal is actually composed of at least 92.5% silver and are plated with at least 6 grams of gold. This means the outside of the gold medals are much more malleable than the underlying silver.
Silver and bronze medals are also softer than teeth, so the Olympians who win these medals are usually asked by photographers to bite into their medals as well.
Silver medals can be made purely of silver but also may contain some copper. Bronze medals are usually an alloy of mostly copper (> 90%), tin and zinc.
Photos of silver and bronze medalists biting their medals aren’t nearly as iconic as that of gold medalists, but the photos are still highly sought after by photographers.
The first thought of most of these medal winners isn’t to take a chunk out of them with their teeth, but photographers usually request the Olympians to “bite” their medals until they do so. There’s nothing like leaving teeth marks in your Olympic medal!
How Big Are Olympic Medals? / Ancient Olympic Games
All Olympic medals are at least 60mm in diameter and 3mm thick. The medals are usually circular and indicate the Olympic Games where they were awarded.
The medals also indicate which event they were awarded in. The Olympic hosts are responsible for minting the medals for all the sports.
This wasn’t always the case though, as medals weren’t handed out at the first Olympic Games. Instead, olive wreaths, known as kotinos, were handed out to the winners of each discipline.
These wreaths/branches were taken from an olive tree (kallistefanos elea) by a pais amphithales (a boy whose parents were both alive), using a pair of golden scissors.
After the pais amphithales collected the branches, he brought them to the Temple of Hera, where they were judged by hellanodikai, who were the judges of the Ancient Olympic Games.
These judges would then go on to make the wreaths that were handed out to the winners of the Olympic Games. In honor of this ancient tradition, wreaths were handed out at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
The tradition of medals being handed out at the Olympics started with the 1896 games in Athens, Greece. The winner of each discipline won a silver medal and an olive wreath. Second place won a copper medal and third place was awarded a bronze medal.
The first gold medals were awarded at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, United States. These games started the tradition of 1st, 2nd and 3rd places winning the gold, silver and bronze medals respectively.