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Why Do Athletes Bite Their Olympic Gold Medals?

The tradition of biting gold began during the California gold rush in the late 1800s. Back then, prospectors would bite into the gold nuggets they found with the hope they'd leave tooth marks in the soft metal. That's why gold medal winners bite into their medal, but their teeth don't leave a mark. Although we think of Olympic winners as gold medallists, there's not much gold in the medal. When the modern Olympics began in 1896, the winners were given silver. It wasn't until the third edition that gold medals were given to the winner. Those guys got solid gold. That didn't last long. The last solid gold medals were handed out during the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics.

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Tradition

Winners know they're not wearing gold, so why do they bother to bite into their medals? Tradition is the main reason. Athletes are drawn to participate because they want to emulate their heroes. Winning like their heroes is one thing, and expressing themselves in the same way is also part of the deal. Whether they're fans of Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, biting gold is something they'd have seen their heroes do.

Photographers

The athletes aren't the only ones upholding the tradition. The public also expects it. To that end, photographers ask gold medallists to chomp on their medals. According to an NBCNews.com interview with David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians and author of The Complete Book of the Olympics, photographers ask for the killer shot. Olympians Dawn Harper-Nelson and Natalie Coughlin shared their insights. "They wear you down, and they make you bite it," said Coughlin. Harper-Nelson explained, "They're screaming, 'Look at me!' You just have everyone yelling demands of 'Smile!' and 'Bite your medal!'"

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What do they weigh?

Precious metals are valued based on their weight, so let's see how much each medal weighs. The medals for the Tokyo 2020 games weigh between one pound and two ounces. They're actually weighed in grams –

— Gold medals weigh about 556g

—Silver medals weigh about 550g

—Bronze medals weigh about 450g

What are they worth?

We know the medals aren't worth their weight in gold. They only contain 6 grams of gold and are mostly silver. They're worth $830. Silver medal winners wear $445 of kit. The bronze medal isn't worth much at all. The metals contained within the medal have a market value of just $2.50. Once that metal's crafted into a medal and handed to a legend, it's worth a lot more. Take the 1936 Jesse Owens gold that sold for $615,000 in 2019. A more recent medal went for $73,205. That was the medal won by Leuris Pupo in the men's 25-metre rapid-fire pistol at London 2012.

Not edible

The official Twitter account for Tokyo 2020 tweeted about this phenomenon. In a jokey message, they said, "We just want to officially confirm that the #Tokyo2020 medals are not edible." They also added, "Our medals are made from material recycled from electronic devices donated by the Japanese public. So, you don't have to bite them...but we know you still will."

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