The history behind Olympians appearing on Wheaties cereal boxes

·2 min read

It's the extra honor bestowed upon many Olympic athletes: After you win gold, you may end up on a box of Wheaties.

At the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Bruce – later Caitlyn – Jenner won gold in the decathlon and became a household name. Later that year, Jenner received another coveted honor: being featured on a box of Wheaties cereal.

Scores of other top Olympic athletes have also shared that distinction. Now, with the Tokyo Games entering their second week, will any current Olympians be joining them?

Jon Nudi, the president of North America Retail at General Mills, said his marketing team is watching competitors go for gold in Japan in hopes of finding new box-cover stars.

"Clearly the Olympics are an exciting time in sports, so we're certainly watching and seeing what's happening over there and which champions might emerge," he told CBS News' Elaine Quijano. "In the history of Wheaties, we've actually had over 70 Olympians on the box."

It's a big year for the cereal itself. The flakes that make up Wheaties were discovered entirely by accident exactly a century ago.

In 1921, a health clinician in Minnesota spilled a wheat bran mixture on a hot stove and watched as it turned into a crispy flake. He brought his discovery to the predecessor of General Mills, who saw the potential for a new, healthy breakfast food. Three years later, Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes hit the market in 1924. 

Later renamed Wheaties, early boxes featured a fictional character named Jack Armstrong. In 1934, the company switched to real athletes, beginning with legendary Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig.

In the 1950s, Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards was the first to appear on the front of the box. He was one of over 850 athletes who have earned the honor, from Olympic stars like Shaun White and Apolo Ono, to the winners of soccer's 2019 Women's World Cup, to pro athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams.

Some sports superstars like Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps have appeared multiple times. But the all-time champ is none other than Michael Jordan, who's shown up on 18 boxes.

When it comes to choosing box-cover athletes, Nudi explained that General Mills wants athletes who are making history both in and outside of their competitions."We want great athletes, that's important," he said. "But champions are champions not only in the ring or on the mat, but champions of communities around the world as well."

To celebrate Wheaties' centennial, General Mills has come up with their Century Collector Box series. The first will feature humanitarian and boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

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