Your favorite swimmer just won gold for being first in an event at the Olympics. You are shouting at the TV when the swimmer gets up out of the pool, puts on the shiny, golden award, poses for the camera and bites down on that glorious Olympic gold medal… and you wonder why.
Over 100 years ago, this was a way for athletes to test if the medals were gold or not, but now athletes bite them to honor tradition. So, let’s take a dive into the over-a-century-old story of this now symbolic gesture.
Testing Its Authenticity
During the California Gold Rush in the 1800s, gold traders and professionals lacked advanced technology to assess gold quality. So, they tested supposed gold pieces by biting them. Money handlers were notorious for biting gold coins and other forms of golden currency.
Authentic gold is malleable and soft, so biting down on a piece of gold leaves bite marks. If the piece is fake gold, teeth won’t make a mark. Biting too hard, though, could actually break a tooth. Yikes!
As far as gold medals are concerned in the Olympics, nearly pure Olympic gold medals were awarded from 1904 to 1912 but were discontinued. Olympic gold medals now consist of 210 grams of silver and coated with 6 grams of 24 karat gold. Olympians are aware the ‘gold’ medals are mostly made of silver, but they still bite them for the exact reason you might expect by now.
Bite For The Camera
Photographers crave the iconic shot of an Olympian biting a gold medal. Though it is unclear which athlete initially started this trend, it presumably happened when the Olympics handed out nearly pure gold medals in the early 1900s. Since then, photographers have jumped on every opportunity to capture athletes biting their shiny awards.
Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and other famous Olympic athletes you can think of have likely been caught in this very photogenic pose and featured in copious news publications because they look, well, photogenic.
This trend, based on science, tradition and gold industry practices, demonstrates how gold’s properties still affect popular culture, down to the last bite.
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