You don’t need to be an Olympian to eat the “Breakfast of Champions” but getting your face on the Wheaties box is an honor reserved for champion athletes. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, most Olympic athletes did not win additional medals after they were featured on the Wheaties box. Every athlete on the Wheaties box had established records or won multiple Olympic medals prior to being featured.
Wheaties is a breakfast cereal that became associated with sports in 1927, through advertising with minor league baseball in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The brand’s popularity grew with baseball broadcasting throughout the 1930s, and by the early 1940s celebrities seeking the Wheaties spotlight included football stars, circus performers, jockeys, aviators, automobile racers, explorers, and parachutists.
As one of the first sponsors of televised sports, Wheaties became part of American culture through its distinctive orange boxes and the popularity of athletes it featured. Wheaties does not officially sponsor the Olympics, but they do feature Olympians and other athletes from a variety of sports.
Athletes are selected for the honor based not only on their athletic achievements but by going the extra mile in contributing to culture and society. “Wheaties looks for athletes who are champions on and off the field because great athletes have cultural significance that is bigger than the game,” said Kelsey Roemhildt, a General Mills spokesperson.
A timeline of notable Olympic athletes featured on the Wheaties box
There have been 73 Olympians or Olympic teams on the Wheaties box in its over 100 year history. Here are some of them, in order.
1935: Babe Didrikson Zaharias
She was first female athlete to be featured, placed on the back of the Wheaties box. She won gold meals in hurdles and the javelin throw at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
1958: Bob Richards
Two-time Olympic pole vaulting champion in the Helsinki and Melbourne Games. He was the first athlete to appear on the front of the Wheaties box.
1977: Caitlyn Jenner
Jenner won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Jenner came out as transgender 40 years after her win, changing her name from Bruce to Caitlyn.
1984: Mary Lou Retton
Retton won five medals in gymnastics at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She was the first woman to be featured on the front of the Wheaties box.
1988: Michael Jordan
Jordan won the gold medal in basketball at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles before starting his pro career. His first appearance on a box was in 1988. He went on to become a Wheaties star with 18 appearances and win another gold medal in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics.
1992: Kristi Yamaguchi
Yamaguchi was the first Asian-American woman to win a gold medal in a Winter Olympic competition. She won the gold at the 1992 Albertville Olympics.
1996: Amy Van Dyken
Despite growing up with severe asthma, Van Dyken won four gold medals in swimming at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. She won more gold medals than any athlete at the 1996 Games. She went on to win two more gold medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
1996: US Women's Olympic gymnastics team
The first American team to win gold in gymnastics made the box in 1996. The "magnificent seven" on the team were Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps, and Kerry Strug. They made history with their underdog win against Russia and Romania at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
1996: Tom Dolan
Dolan won three Olympic medals in swimming at the Atlanta and Sydney Games. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2006.
1999: Mia Hamm
Hamm led the US Women's soccer team at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the first time women's soccer was played in the Olympics. In 1999, the team went on to win the women's World Cup.
1999: Muhammad Ali
Won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Muhammad Ali is the first featured athlete for the Wheaties 100th Anniversary Gold Box.
2001: Jim Thorpe
Thorpe won both the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. General Mills put him on the box nearly 50 years after he died.
2003: Jesse Owens
Owens won four gold medals in track and field at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He is one of the most famous athletes in track and field history.
2004: Justin Gatlin
Gatlin won the gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens as a sprinter. He is the oldest man to win an Olympic medal in a non-relay sprint event, a silver at the age of 34 during the Rio 2016 Games.
2004: Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps won 23 gold medals during his career as a swimmer, the most of any Olympian. He made appearances on the Wheaties box in 2004 and 2012.
2004: Carl Lewis
Lewis won four gold medals in track and field at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, two gold medals in Seoul at the 1988 Olympics, two gold medals in Barcelona at the 1992 Olympics, and one gold medal at the 1996 Olympics. He was named "Olympian of the Century" by Sports Illustrated.
2004: Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the heptathlon and the long jump, Joyner-Kersee won three gold medals at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games in Seoul and Barcelona.
2006: Apolo Anton Ohno
The most decorated American Olympian at the Winter Olympics, Ohno won eight medals in three Games: 2002 in Salt Lake City, 2006 in Turin, and 2010 in Vancouver.
2008: Nastia Liukin
Liukin won five Olympic medals in gymnastics at the 2008 Beijing Games.
2010: Lindsey Vonn
Vonn won the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. She is considered one of the world's greatest skiers.
2010: Shaun White
White won gold medals in snowboarding at the 2006 Games in Turin and 2010 Games in Vancouver. He played a key role in making snowboarding an Olympic sport.
2010: Misty May-Treanor
May-Treanor won three gold medals in three consecutive Olympic Games: Athens, Beijing, and London. She's one of the world's most successful volleyball players.
2014: Mikaela Shiffrin
Shiffrin was the youngest slalom champion in Olympic alpine skiing history. She won the gold at the 2014 Games in Sochi, and at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.
2016: Greg Louganis
Louganis won gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics for springboard and platform diving. He is considered one of the world's greatest divers, and is a prominent LGBTQ-rights activist.
2016: Janet Evans
Evans won three gold medals in swimming at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She went on to win the gold at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and is regarded as one of the world's best female swimmers.
2016: Edwin Moses
Moses won gold medals in track at the 1976 Montreal Games, and 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
2019: Serena Williams
Williams won gold medals in tennis in the 2000 Sydney Games, 2008 Beijing Games, and 2012 Games in London.
2021: Tommie Smith
Smith won the gold in track and field at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. He raised his fist during the medal ceremony in solidarity for racial justice and human rights.
Wheaties box images used with permission of General Mills Marketing, Inc.
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