Why Do Olympians Bite Their Medals? It Has More To Do With Science Than You Might Expect — VIDEO
If you've been following the Rio 2016 summer Olympics, you've probably noticed a slightly bizarre trend: Olympians posing for photos with their medals clamped between their teeth. So... what gives? Well, as a recent video from Today I Found Out explains, there are actually a few reasons why Olympians bite their medals after award ceremonies — and they're all pretty fascinating.
As you may already know, Olympic gold medals are not actually made out of solid gold. In fact, according to CNN Money, Olympic gold medals are made out of only 1.34 percent gold this year; indeed, the medals are actually worth less than you might expect: In 2016, an Olympic gold medal is technically only valued at about $600. However, this hasn't always been the case. Until the year 1912, Olympic medals were actually made out of solid gold. And what's the best way to tell if gold is real or not? Bite it, of course.
I know, it sounds a little unbelievable, but Simon Whistler at Today I Found Out has an excellent explanation as to why Olympians bite their medals. And as this video explains, the logic behind Olympians biting their medals has more to do with science than you might expect.
Here's what's up with all that gnawing:
1. Biting Soft Metals Can Reveal Their Purity
No, really: Gold is a soft metal, so an age-old practice in testing the purity of gold is to literally sink your teeth into it. If the gold is fairly pure, you'll find that you left some teeth marks in it. If something isn't pure gold, but is, for example, gold plated, you'll find that the gold plating may scrape off and reveal a non-gold center, like lead. So, where does this leave us? When Olympians bite their medals, it harkens back to the notion that they're testing the "purity" of the gold, even though today they all realize, of course, that their medals are not solid gold. Traditions die hard.
2. Are Teeth Really Strong Enough To Alter Gold?
This part of the video really surprised me, but as Whistler explains, our teeth actually are strong enough to alter soft metals. According to the Mohs Hardness Scale, tooth enamel is rated at a five, while gold rates at only a two and a half. Tooth enamel also ranks harder on the Mohs scale than sterling silver (which comes in at just over two and a half), and copper (which is what the "bronze" medal is actually made out of). This is why you see Olympians biting all of their medals, not just the gold ones.
3. Photographers Love Photo Opportunities
This one might be obvious, but it's worth thinking about: Photographers love photo ops! In general, the Olympics are pretty darn serious, and athletes are expected to push themselves to their brinks as professional competitors in front of a world-wide live audience. Talk about stress!
As Whistler explains, photographers will often encourage athletes to bite their medals towards the end of the photo ops that traditionally come after award ceremonies. This gives them a way to let loose a little and give the media some playful shots of them celebrating. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't always go as planned: In 2010, German luger David Moeller apparently chipped a tooth biting down on his silver medal. So if you're ever an Olympian, bite down for that photo... but maybe not too hard.
Images: Today I Found Out/YouTube (3)