It’s a very common gesture and even more so during the Tokyo Olympics: biting into your hard-won medal once a competition has been completed on one of the three steps of the podium. But why do athletes almost always bite their gold, silver or bronze trophies? Explanations.
It’s almost the same every time. Once the medals are awarded during a sports competition, it is not uncommon to see the medalists wear their gold, silver or bronze trophy to their mouths and wedge it with a smile between their immaculate teeth.
5,000 medals distributed
An essential gesture on which the organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games did not hesitate to communicate on July 25 on the social network Twitter. The reason ? Japan recalled with a nice touch of humor that the 5,000 medals for these Olympics, postponed for a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, were made from 79,000 tonnes of used devices.
This represents approximately “6.21 million used cell phones, as well as digital cameras, handheld games and laptops”, specifies the official website of the competition.
“We just want to confirm to you that the medals are not edible. They are made from recycled materials, coming from electronic devices offered by the Japanese ”, the organizers of the Games said on Twitter before adding maliciously: “So you don’t have to bite them … but we know full well that you are going to continue”.
“Making the athlete’s victory a reality”
But why do athletes bite into their medals? Different answers exist on this subject. For sports psychologist Clément Le Coz, this gesture means several things.
“It depends on the athletes, many do it. The first aspect of biting is to materialize the athlete’s victory or the fact of having won a medal. “
Whoever is also a mental trainer for athletes emphasizes “That we often tend to talk about a chocolate medal for fourth place, which is synonymous with failure. By biting into the metal, we prove that we have obtained the real medal with the desired metal. “
But putting your teeth on its charm also reflects the combative state of athletes. “As in the expression to have bite”, specifies on the phone the specialist from Tours (Indre-et-Loire).
« It can subconsciously show the aggressiveness, effort, commitment and all the motivation an athlete may have put in place to get a medal. “
“Finally, biting into the medal allows champions to reproduce, through unconscious psychological mimicry, what their models and great champions have done before them. They can say to themselves: ‘I do it too because I have become a great champion’, says Clément le Coz. There is a certain recognition, a feeling of belonging, of being part of the very closed circle of athletes who have been able to access this. “
Gold digger and athletes, same fight?
A second reason exists. It is more historical: that of the pioneers of the United States gold rush in the 19th century.e century, specifies the sports newspaper The team .
Back then, when miners found gold nuggets, he would dig deep into whether the gold metal was true. As tooth enamel is stronger than gold, a mark was visible in the event of a real find.
In 1896, when the modern Olympics were created, gold medals were made of pure gold. Biting into it reassured the athletes. A gesture which, however, was of little use after the 1912 Olympics. At that date, the composition of the medals changed radically.
In 2021, gold medals consist of only “Six grams of gold plated on pure silver”, indicates the official website of the Games. Silver medals are 100% pure silver and bronze medals are made of “Red brass (95% copper and 5% zinc)”.
Read also: An Olympic gold medal, dating from the Atlanta Olympics, found on the A68 motorway
The fault of the media?
A third explanation points to the media pressure and the search for beautiful images. For David Wallechinsky, historian specializing in the Olympic Games interviewed by the American television channel CNN, this tendency to bite into one’s medal during official ceremonies “Has become an obsession for photographers”.
“I think they see her as an icon that you can sell every time. I don’t think the athletes would do this on their own. “
A process that the German athlete Frank Busemann had already explained to the press at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. “The photographers asked me to do it to have the medal at the same level as my face”, reminds the newspaper The team .