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Why do Olympians bite their medals?

It's the iconic photo you see every Olympics.

ATLANTA — It’s an Olympic tradition that stirs memories of America’s 19th Century hunt for gold.

Whether it’s the winter or summer games, it seems Olympic champions can’t step onto the medal stand without sinking their teeth into their newly acquired hardware. Photographs grace magazine covers and the front pages of newspapers showing Olympians taking a bite of their medals.

“It’s become sort of an expectation,” said sports photographer Perry McIntyre.

During the California Gold Rush in the late 1800s, miners would sink their teeth into a new discovery to see if they’d actually struck gold. Pure gold is soft enough to leave teeth marks, so if a miner cracked his dental wear, he knew he was out of luck.

No one seems to know if that is what prompted the trend of athletes taking a good natured bite of their gold medals, but photographers love it. Olympic medalists say photographers plead for a toothy pose.

Photographer Perry McIntyre has worked a variety of sporting events including the Olympics. He says it’s the shot editors expect you to get.

“It's just become an iconic photo op,” said McIntyre. “When Georgia lifts the national championship trophy, that's the picture everybody gets. I think this Olympic gold medal biting is probably one of the same type things.”

While the tradition may have roots in America’s 19th Century search for gold, Olympic winners are biting down on medals that are mostly silver. Olympic gold medals have no more than six grams of gold.

Silver medals, however, are pure silver. Occasionally, Olympians bite down on them, too.



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