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MYSTERY SOLVED

Why do Olympic athletes bite their gold medals?

David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, reveals the mystery behind the metal chomping antics!

Why do Olympic athletes bite their gold medals?
MORENATTI DIARIO AS

It’s one of the images of these Olympic Games. Almost every athlete who’s claimed first place in Rio, no matter their nationality or their event, seems to automatically do one thing when they step on to that podium and pose for the camera: bite their gold medal. But where did this tradition come from?

Mireia Belmonte

Historic origins

“Biting metal” is a tradition that goes a long way back in history: it was a quick and rudimentary form of checking if monetary coins were authentic or fake. Gold, being the comparatively soft metal that it is, would show wear when distressed. However, since coins have not contained precious metals for over half a century, it’s a custom that’s long worn out. So why do athletes continue to do it today?

Simone Biles

Photographer's obsession 

Rather than actually checking if their medal does in fact contain gold (the International Olympics Committee assures us that there are six grams of the stuff on a winner’s medallion), David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, tells CNN that it’s more likely to do with satisfying photographers.

"It's become an obsession with the photographers," says Wallechinsky, who is also the 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."

So there we go…mystery solved!