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Wheaties is on the hunt for their next cereal box star at the Tokyo Olympics.  Here is the story behind the tradition.

This is the added honor bestowed on many Olympic athletes: after winning gold, you can end up on a box of Wheaties.

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

Dozens of other top Olympic athletes also shared the honor. Now that the Tokyo Games enter their second week, will any current Olympians be joining them?

Jon Nudi, 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.

“It’s clear that the Olympics are an exciting time in the sport, so we’re definitely watching and seeing what’s going on there and what champions might emerge,” he told CBS News’s 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 chance exactly a century ago.

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

Later renamed Wheaties, the early boxes featured a fictional character named Jack Armstrong. In 1934, the company turned to real athletes, starting 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 more than 850 athletes who earned the honor, from Olympic stars like Shaun White and Apolo Ono, to the winners of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, to professional athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams.

Some sports superstars like Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps have appeared several times. But the all-time champion is none other than Michael Jordan, who appeared on 18 boxes.

When it comes to choosing box-cover athletes, Nudi explained that General Mills wants athletes who make 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 also champions of communities around the world.”

To celebrate the centenary of Wheaties, General Mills has created its Century Collector Box series. The first will feature humanitarian and boxing legend Muhammad Ali.


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