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Biting medals can be dangerous as recycled metals have been used — Tokyo Olympic Games organisers

A file image of American trap shooter Walton Glenn Eller biting his Olympic gold medal after winning the double trap event at the Beijing Shooting Range in 2008 (Image courtesy: US Army/Tim Hipps)

There are several athletes who will bite the proverbial dust at the Tokyo Olympic Games but for those who have tasted success and made it to the podium, the organisers of the 2020 Games have an advice – do not bite the medal.

It has now become a common practice for sportspersons to strike a pose for the photographers with the metal in their mouth. Over the last few decades, almost every top athlete has done it after winning a medal in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or any other world championship. The pose, now a tradition of sorts, continues to give photographers their wow moment.  

However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has warned the medal winners at Tokyo to avoid chewing the metal. And, they have quite a 'solid' reason to suggest that!
"We just want to officially confirm that the Tokyo 2020 medals are not edible! Our gold, silver and bronze medals are made from material recycled from electronic devices donated by the Japanese public. So, you don't have to bite them… but we know you still will," the organisers tweeted Sunday night along with several pictures of medal winners biting their medal during the ongoing Games.  

Perhaps, many champion athletes tasting triumph at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza right now would not be aware of the journey made by the medal hanging around their neck.

It was in early 2017 that the Tokyo Organising Committee had launched the 'Making medals from urban mines! Everyone's Medal Project', calling on the Japanese citizens to donate their electronic devices like used mobile phones and other small appliances. Their gold, silver, and bronze was then removed and reused to make medals for the Olympic/Paralympic Games.

Top companies like Japanese telecommunications giant Nippon Telegraph and Telegraph (NTT) DOCOMO also promoted the project by collecting used mobile telephones at all of its approximately 2400 shops nationwide as well as utilizing the recycling process.

Also Read: To Tokyo, via Iran and Switzerland — the inspiring journey of an Afghan refugee to Olympics

As mobile phones contain gold, silver, bronze, palladium, and other metals that are precious resources for Japan, which has few metal resources, Nippon regarded the 2020 event as a catalyst, aiming to establish small electrical appliance recycling through this project and creating the legacy of realizing an environmentally friendly sustainable society.

Everyone believed that the first-of-its-kind project in the world for recycling used mobile phones and other small appliances 100% to create medals will also lead to the creation of mechanisms for recycling limited resources.

Tokyo Olympics 2020

NTT Docomo collecting used mobile phones at various events

Finally, by 31 March 2019 – the day medal project ended – the number of items collected at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings was 145,934 items, enough to recover fully the metal required for about 5,000 medals in total for the Olympic and Paralympic gold, silver and bronze medals. 

The government however announced that the collection and recycling of small electronic devices will continue and conducted by the local authorities.

So, as weightlifter Mirabai Chanu brought home today her most prized possession – and will keep it close to heart for the rest of her lifetime – it would not be a bad idea perhaps to also say thank you to the Japanese citizens for their cooperation.