Iconic eccentricities permeate many sports and the Olympics are not immune. I don’t know when the first Olympian sunk her or his teeth into their trophy, “The Medal”, but it is happening. It seems it is becoming an increasing feature of the Games, kissing or biting those fabled medals. I also don’t know if there is more kissing or more biting, and whether it varies from gold to silver to bronze, but this romancing the metal is definitely being seen by some as the conclusion, the endgame, of each Games. Those without medals may mainly grind their teeth, but the winners have a toothsome target for their pride and their periodontium. I don’t know if tooth imprints can actually be left; if they are left it certainly helps ensure the priceless medal’s security.
The act itself is a fun way to seal the deal with a kiss or a chompdown. You worked incredibly hard, devoted your life to this sport, and won an Olympic medal, nothing to be sneezed at. Its been a deeply personal, self-reliant, and intimate journey. So you and that icon have a profound and personal relationship. You have pursued it more than anything else in your entire life. Its become a love affair that will last forever; its got legs (particularly in certain events). I suppose its not ALWAYS a love affair, with some bronze winners who had gold aspirations biting that bronze with anger in their incisors. One could opine and pun on this Olympic behavior all day, but for me it helps to humanize the Games and is sorta fun.
Many sports have their own iconic eccentricities or expressions. Olympic volleyballers like butt slapping. Hand-slapping too. America’s National Football League is big on those as well.
The legendary Indy 500 race ends with the winner expected to drink a bottle of milk. I assume all 33 drivers are checked beforehand for lactose intolerance. Its also undoubtedly skim milk. Have you seen how tiny and tight the space is in an Indy car? The winner is also expected to get down and kiss the bricks at the finish line.
Some sports have a mandatory hosing down of winners with champagne. What if you are a teetotaler? Or an alcoholic on the 12 Step Program? For the losers its whine.
Baseball may be the peccadillo poster-child of all sports. It is awash in quirky traditions, which include the rule that all players must spit as frequently and visibly as possible for the TV audience at home. Then there is mandatory gum chewing , and the male pitcher’s compulsive crotch scratching (also a male catcher’s tradition) (could this be the real reason baseball got booted from the more genteel Olympics?). The pitcher’s scratching is particularly revered in baseball because its done from the mound where all the world can see.
Maybe you can add to my very short list of these sports behaviors that often make a sport more interesting, unusual, different, or sometimes disgusting… What are the gender differences, ethnic differences, national differences, and differences among the various sports beyond those noted here? Join the discussion!
Frank Farley is L.H.Carnell Professor, Temple University, Philadelphia, and former President, American Psychological Association. He can be reached at email@example.com or (215)668-7581.