Athletes biting into their gold, silver, or bronze medals is a common victory pose for winning Olympians.
The widespread trend has been seen throughout this year’s Rio Olympics as well as in previous Games—and it’s all thanks to photojournalists, according to David Wallechinsky.
Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians and co-author of “The Complete Book of the Olympics,” said in an interview with CNN that winners are more than likely just accommodating the requests of photojournalists.
“It’s become an obsession with the photographers,” said Wallechinsky. “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.”
Historically, biting down on gold was a practice to verify the authenticity of pure gold, with teeth indentation serving as proof that one was in possession of real gold and not pyrite, also known as “Fool’s Gold.”
Apparently, winning Olympians don’t end up with much real gold. Each medal weighs 500 grams. Olympic gold medals are only plated with six grams of gold with 99.9 percent purity. The rest consists of 494 grams of sterling silver, according to the Brazilian Mint. The silver medals are comprised of 500 grams of recycled silver at 92.5 percent purity.
One German Olympian, David Moeller, broke a tooth on his silver medal while trying to please overeager photographers in 2010.
“The photographers wanted us to bite into our medals at the presentation ceremony. And a corner of my front tooth broke off,” Moeller said.
“It wasn’t too bad and it didn’t hurt. But it is annoying when you can’t smile as you normally do. And because I want to have nice pictures and happy memories of my Olympic Games, I went to the dentist to get it repaired.”
According to the website Coin Apps, the “podium value” of a gold medal is worth approximately $570—a small amount compared to what an Olympian can earn as a winner.
U.S. athletes earn $25,000 for winning gold and are taxed by the government as income earned overseas. Silver medalists from Kazakhstan are paid $150,000, and a Singaporean athlete who wins an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games can earn up to $1 million, according to the Singapore National Olympic Council.