Olympic athletes have a little tradition of biting their medals. A Japanese mayor tried to join in on the fun, and the joke did not land. The trouble for Mayor Takashi Kawamura of Nagoya began Wednesday when he publicly congratulated a local medalist, softball player Miu Goto, reports Reuters. After Goto slipped her medal around the mayor's neck, he promptly took off his mask and bit it. Then came a firestorm of online criticism, especially from Japanese Olympians (though not Goto herself). "He bites the medal?" said fencer Yuki Ota. "It's inconceivable to me." Added judo medalist Naohisa Takato: "I would have cried," per NBC News. Even Toyota, a sponsor of the Games, piled on, citing the spread of COVID cases.
"It is unfortunate that he was unable to feel admiration and respect for the athlete," said a company statement. "And it is extremely regrettable that he was unable to give consideration to infection prevention." Amid the backlash, the mayor offered a mea culpa. "I saw the gold medal that I had admired and acted on impulse," he said, as quoted by Kyodo News. "I made the symbol of years and years of hard work dirty. I apologize from the bottom of my heart." Prior to all this, the organizers of the Tokyo Games had put out a jokey tweet acknowledging the tradition and pointing out that "medals are not edible." (They're also not worth very much, at least in terms of raw material.)