“A lot of people, especially the Chinese athletes, really don’t know what to do with it, so they just rub it against their lips in a very awkward way.” Although that sounds like it could be a quote about the sexual activities at the Olympic Village, it’s actually a freelance photographer telling REUTERS about athletes who pose on the podium while biting their medals.
It seems that while the pose is standard in the Western world, it’s almost unheard of in China. So when European photographers shout for them to “bite it” or “kiss it” they are understandably confused. (Apparently Paris Hilton also gets confused when she hears similar shouts while on the red carpet, but for entirely different reasons.)
The level of orally-fixated photo opportunities has been a source of great interest and speculation for the Chinese. Message boards have been full of speculation about if athletes are checking to see if the medals are real. It turns out that “gold” medals are actually 92.5 silver with about 6 grams of pure gold plating, making them a lot less attractive to melt down and sell for gasoline.
The best theory comes from a Qianlong.com, a Beijing-based news website, which quotes an unnamed “source” as claiming that it is all Freudian: biting the medals gives athletes a way to release tension after a stressful competition. My theory: the athletes are depleted after a grueling event, and are hoping that the medal is actually a giant version of one of those chocolate coins that you would get in your Christmas stocking as a kid. Gold medals you can eat: rewarding AND delicious (plus you could get Nestle to make them - another great chance at a big sponsorship.)