Why do Olympians bite their medals?

In ancient times, the malpractice of mixing other metals with gold was prevalent. This is why merchants used to bite into the yellow metal before purchasing it to check its purity.

Usain Bolt

Men's 4x100m relay gold medalist Usain Bolt of Jamaica bites his medal during Rio 2016.   -  Reuters

Olympians have often been snapped, biting their medals after the victory ceremony. Ever wonder what is the significance behind such a move?

History

To understand this tradition, it is important to delve into history. When the Olympic Games were first played in ancient Greece, only one participant would be honoured as the ultimate champion. 

After the Olympics was revived by Pierre de Coubertin in 1894, Athens 1896 saw participants being awarded silver and bronze medals for the first time.

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The quadrennial showpiece used to award pure gold medals to its participants until the 1912 Stockholm Games, after which the practice was stopped due to the outbreak of the First World War.

Nowadays, gold medals are mostly made of gold-plated silver.

Significance

In ancient times, the malpractice of mixing other metals with gold was prevalent. This is why merchants used to bite into the yellow metal before purchasing it to check its purity.

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Gold, being a malleable metal, would be left with teeth marks. On the other hand, chipped teeth or scratch marks would immediately indicate forgery.

Athletes, however, do it just to conform to tradition or because of incessant requests from photographers. The biting of medals has no significance from a sporting perspective.

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