It is a common practice among the Olympic medal winners to bite their medals during the award ceremony. It certainly raises the curiosity of the spectators. It is also the highly sought-after pose by the photographers covering the award ceremony.
David Wallechinsky, who is the co-author of The Complete Book of the Olympics and president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said:
It’s become an obsession with the photographers. 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.
This practice was used widely during the Gold rush, to confirm whether the coins were solid gold or they were just plated with gold over a cheaper metal. Pyrite, also known as fool’s gold, was often mistaken for real gold. The instant way to identify real gold was to bite it.
As human teeth are harder than gold but softer than pyrite, real gold would actually leave an indentation on the coin while pyrite would damage the teeth.
This practice soon evolved to be the most famous pose for capturing the joyous moments of the Olympic winners.
As a matter of fact, the so-called ‘Olympic gold‘ medals haven’t been made of real gold since 1912. The Olympic gold medals consist of just 1.34 percent gold. The rest is sterling silver. The 2016 Rio medals are made from recycled silver owing to their pledge of sustainability. Therefore this practice has no practical significance to check the authenticity of gold medals.
The practice of biting the medals has become so prevalent, and some medal winners had to suffer from dire consequences while posing in this style with a lot of zeal.
One such incident occurred in the year 2010, at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, when German luger David Moeller chipped his tooth while posing with his silver medal. Seems like over-enthusiasm while posing turned a sweet memory bitter!
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