The gold medal is the ultimate accolade in sport, the symbol of years and years of training, dedication, and sacrifice. That the gold medal is not actually made of gold at all. Well, maybe a little bit, but it’s not as gold as you think it is. That’s just one of the many strange facts about the gold medal you probably never wanted to know but are about to find out.
Why Do Athletes Bite Their Medals?
You’re probably used to seeing athletes bite their gold medals on the podium. But have you ever wondered why they do this? Sure, some do it because they think they’re filled with chocolate, but that is not always the case. To answer this question and to get to the bottom of what’s actually in a gold medal, we have to take a trip back in time to the very first Olympic Games.
Back in ancient Greece, only one winner per event was crowned. No silver, no bronze. And what did they get to show for all their hard work and dedication? An olive wreath. Is that it? It was actually Aristophanes, the Greek playwright who is known as the Father of Comedy, who first wondered why victorious athletes weren’t decorated with something a bit flashier. The answer is the athletes were supposed to compete not for possessions but for honor.
Flash forward 1,500 years, and the Olympic spirit was revived. It’s 1896 and the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. Winners were actually awarded a silver medal, with bronze going to second place. But in 1904, winners hit the jackpot. They were awarded solid gold medals, albeit smaller ones. This lasted until 1912 when the onset of the First World War put an end to that gold rush.
Olympic Gold Medal
- So far, though, none have been made with chocolate.
- So what are they worth? The monetary value of the metal in the medal alone is about $500. But of course, it’s worth it to the athletes who manage to win one, well, that’s priceless. Or is it?
Famous medals, or medals with some history behind them, have sold for in excess of $1 million at auction, such as one of the metals worn by Jesse Owens in 1936 which sold for around $1.5 million.
So just how difficult is it to win a gold medal?
Statistically, very. Approximately 10,000 people have ever won one. What? Just 10,000. But these odds go up significantly if you’re from Norway. The tiny Nordic nation has won more gold medals per capita than any other country in the world. Approximately one for every 14,000 people in the country.
- It also helps if your name happens to be Michael Phelps. The American is the most decorated Olympian with 23 golds, three silvers, and two bronze thrown in for good measure.
- Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen is the most decorated Winter Olympian with eight gold medals, four silvers, and a bronze to his name.
- American Eddie Eagan is still the only person ever to have won a gold medal in both a summer sport at the Summer Olympics and a winter sport at the Winter Olympics, taking top honors in boxing at Antwerp back in 1920.
So back to that biting. The tradition of biting into shiny, gold things dates back to merchants who would bite their coins to make sure they weren’t lead forgeries. That’s because, historically, gold was alloyed with other harder metals to make it harder. So if biting the coin left teeth marks, the merchant would know it was a fake. These days, the biting might be for show. But it’s become as much a part of the Olympic tradition as the medals themselves.
- But if you’re ever lucky enough to win a medal, be careful. German luge slider David Möller chipped his tooth on his silver medal back in Vancouver in 2010.
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