Some Olympic Medalists Bite Their Medals During Medal Ceremonies — Why?

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Jul. 28 2021, Published 1:57 p.m. ET

Team USA has won quite the collection of medals at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 thus far. Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel, and Lee Kiefer are just some athletes who scored a gold medal.

The Olympians' incredible achievements haven't gone unnoticed, but there's another thing that caught the attention of those following the Olympics. As part of each medal ceremony, the winning athletes tend to bite into their medals. Why?

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Why do Olympians bite their medals?

Turns out, there's no straightforward answer as to why the pose has become so prevalent among Olympic medalists. As David Wallechinsky told CNN in 2012, the reason behind the popular ritual might be quite ad hoc. As David explained, there's a chance that Olympic medalists only bite their medals because the photographers taking their pictures ask them to.

William Shaner
Source: Instagram / Team U.S.
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"It's become an obsession with the photographers," David said. "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."

Were the pose not so common, the Olympic medalists of the current day and age might not be able to popularize it. But the convention prevails, even though its origins are also unknown.

Some believe that the tradition of biting into a medal is rooted in the centuries-old practice of assessing the quality of precious metals, such as gold, by sinking one's teeth into it.

Common among merchants, the practice provided an easy way to tell real coins apart from counterfeit ones. The strategy worked especially well in the case of gold coins, as gold is a softer material that gets marred easily.

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Source: Instagram / Team U.S.

While this explanation may seem plausible, it does rest on a slight logical fallacy, as the medals handed out at the Olympic Games aren't made of pure gold. In other words, the Olympians needn't feel obliged to run impromptu quality checks.

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The medals handed out at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are made of recycled electronic waste.

The medals handed out at this year's Olympics are made of discarded smartphones, cameras, game consoles, laptops, and the like. According to The Guardian, all of the Olympic medals were manufactured using recycled electronic waste collected via the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project. A similar initiative was launched ahead of the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the outlet states.

Source: Instagram / Team U.S.
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Do Olympians get paid?

How much an Olympian medalist gets paid depends on which country they represent at the games. U.S. gold medalists get paid $37,500 for every gold, $22,500 for every silver, and $15,000 for every bronze medal, per NPR.

Other athletes are slightly less fortunate. Take Team GB, whose members don't receive any money for winning a medal. According to Glasgow Live, they do get access to stipends and other forms of support, however.

"It is our view that financial rewards do not significantly impact the motivation of an athlete to reach the Olympic podium," a representative for the British Olympic Association told The Telegraph in 2012.

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