The surprising reason athletes are shaking their Paralympic medals

Paralympic medalGetty Images/Buda MendesBlind swimmer Bradley Snyder shakes his gold medal on the podium at the Rio Games.

From a distance, Paralympic medals look just like Olympic ones. But Paralympic hardware comes with feature that Olympic medals lack: They make noise. 

Each of the 2,642 of the medals made for the Rio Paralympics contain a certain number of tiny steel balls: Bronze medals have 16 balls, silvers have 20, and golds have 28. This way, when shaken, each medal makes a distinct sound, a Rio 2016 statement explained

This brand-new noisemaking function was developed for visually impaired athletes who can’t see colour differences in medals. Now, when a blind athlete receives a medal, he or she can simply give it a shake and hear whether it’s gold, silver, or bronze. (Golds make the most noise; bronzes are the quietest.)

The medals are also printed with Braille to further assist visually impaired medal winners. You can see the Braille engraving up close in this Instagram photo from the International Paralympic Committee:

Want to hear what they sound like? You can hear each medal’s individual rattle in this video from journalist William Carless, who reported on the medals for PRI:

NOW WATCH: Here’s how gold medals are made for the Rio Olympics

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