Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Explained - Why Olympic winners bite their medals 

Photos of winners posing with the medals between their teeth are some of the most recognisable pictures from the Olympics.
By Aarish Ansari

Elite athletes biting their medals while standing on the podium is a familiar sight in the Olympics.

Photos of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Simone Biles pretending to chomp into their freshly earned medals are some of the most iconic pictures from the Olympic Games.

But why do Olympians bite their medals? Here, we find out the reason behind this strange practice.

Purity check? 

History says that, during the early days, traders bit their gold coins to check its authenticity when the precious metal was used as a form of currency. Gold is a soft metal which dents under slight stress and leaves a mark when gnawed.

However, it’s safe to say that the Olympic champions are not checking for the purity of their medals when they pose for the photos with the metal disc in their mouths.

Moreover, since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stopped awarding pure gold medals in 1912, it is definitely not the reason.

Then why do athletes still bite their medals? 

Because the photographers ask them to.

“It’s become an obsession with the photographers,” David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, told CNN.

Shutterbugs consider the medal biting pose to be the shot that can make it to the front page of next day’s newspaper and hence request the athletes to do so.

“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,” Wallechinsky explained.

German luger David Moeller, who won silver at the 2010 Winter Olympics, even broke his tooth while doing the famous pose!

“The photographers wanted a picture of me holding the medal just with my teeth,” Moeller told German newspaper Bild. “Later at dinner, I noticed a bit of one of my teeth was missing.”

We might not see any more athletes visit the dentist after chomping on their medals, but the tradition has become an integral part of the Olympics and is likely to be seen in the future too.