You’ve just done it! You stuck the landing, won the race, or vanquished your foe … The crowd goes wild. Bob Costas lauds you, and you take to the podium to claim your Olympic medal. Once the national anthem has concluded, photographers line up to take your picture. Do you pump your fist? Cry tears of joy? No. You open wide and bite down on your Olympic gold.
This seemingly odd habit actually is rooted in tradition, and at one time, served a legitimate purpose.
“Historically, the practice of biting into metal seems to have its roots in money counterfeiting,” David W. Lange of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation told CNN. “Money handlers would bite down on coins to test their authenticity.”
Gold habits die hard
Gold is a “relatively soft metal,” and if you chomped down on it, you’d get a similar indentation to what you might find if you bit into a chilled chocolate Easter bunny. So, back in the day, this was the quickest way to see whether you were actually winning something of value, or if it was merely milk chocolate wrapped in gold foil.
These days, of course, the practice has taken on a life of its own. David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, told CNN that “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.” So basically, it’s “the money shot.”
You may need gold teeth after biting a gold medal
Funnily enough, the process has strayed further from its roots than ever, because modern medals are hardly gold at all. These days, a gold medal “consists of 1.34%, or about 6 grams, of gold. The remainder is 93% silver and 6% copper,” per CNN.
Way back in 1904, 1908 and 1912, the medals were smaller, but actually solid gold. After each World War, the amount decreased significantly. So, the next time you take home the gold, beware: If silver is strong enough to take out a werewolf, it’ll probably do a number on your teeth.
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