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2010 Winter Olympics: Awaiting Newest Wheaties Champions

David WhiteCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2010

25 Feb 2002:  US Olympic gold medal figure skating champion, Sarah Hughes, unveils the latest Wheaties box featuring her likeness at a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Just as Super Bowl MVPs are expected to take trips to Disney World, U.S Olympic champions are expected to take their turns on the fronts of Wheaties boxes.

Wheaties, a cereal produced by General Mills, has been associated with sports since its creation in the early 1920s. Touted as the “Breakfast of Champions,” Wheaties began putting the image of famous athletes on its cereal boxes beginning in 1934 with Yankee great Lou Gehrig.

Hundreds of champion American athletes and teams have appeared on the box since. Many have graced the cover of multiple boxes—Michael Jordan has been on a record 18 boxes and Tiger Woods has been on 14.

Wheaties’ association with the Olympics began in 1958 when gold medal pole vaulter Bob Richards became the first athlete to appear on the front of a Wheaties box (Gehrig and other previous athletes had appeared on the back).

Since 1958, Wheaties has maintained the tradition of having the image of several American athletes gracing special edition covers of their cereal boxes upon their returns from the Olympics.

Revered Olympic champions such as decathlete Bruce Jenner, gymnast Mary Lou Retton, and speed skater Eric Heiden have all graced the cover of the orange box, as have entire gold medal winning teams, including the men’s “Miracle on Ice” hockey team of 1980 and the U.S. women’s hockey team from the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

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In recent years, Wheaties has produced two or three special edition boxes after the Olympics. The cover athletes after the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics were decathlon champion Bryan Clay and the all-around women’s gymnastics champion Nastia Liukin.

In 2006, the 500 meters short track speed skating gold medalist—Apolo Anton Ohno—and the 500 meters long track speed skating gold medalist—Joey Cheek—graced the two special edition covers.

In 2004, Wheaties produced three Olympic edition boxes—one with swimmer Michael Phelps after winning his first six Olympic gold medals, one with all-around gymnastics champion Carly Patterson, and one with 100-meter dash gold medalist Justin Gatlin.

In 2002, figure skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes was a Wheaties Olympic champion.

Of course, it’s not as simple as choosing the best or most popular athletes from the Games; money and politics are involved as well. General Mills does have to strike a contractual agreement with the athletes to have their images appear on their cereal.

After Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Kellogg’s jumped in and signed Phelps as a spokesperson and had him appear on boxes of Corn Flakes. But such a move by Kellogg’s was unprecedented, and Phelps had already had the honor of appearing on a Wheaties box four years earlier.

Ultimately, while there is a commercial component to it, appearing on a Wheaties box is really more of an award, accomplishment, and part of American sports history than anything else.

So with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics now complete we can expect an announcement within the next few days of the newest crop of Wheaties Olympic champions.

With Wheaties' affinity for “champions” there are only nine likely candidates—the American gold medalists from Vancouver.

That short-list consists of alpine skiers Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, snowboarders Shaun White and Seth Wescott, Nordic Combined star Bill Demong, figure skater Evan Lysacek, speed skater Shani Davis, freestyle skier Hannah Kearney, and the four-man bobsled team led by driver Steve Holcomb.

Of those nine athletes, only Vonn and Miller might be excluded for business reasons—Vonn because her marketability is so high that she could be wooed into another endorsement as Phelps was, and Miller because in the past he has shown an aversion to the commercialization of the Olympics and has tarnished his image with some sponsors in the process.

Wheaties has a tendency to pick athletes who have proven to be truly great champions by winning multiple medals, or who have accomplished a historic feat. This Olympic crop of gold medalists, therefore, gives them plenty of options.

Seth Wescott, Shani Davis, and Shaun White all defended their gold medals from Torino in 2006. Bill Demong won the United States’ first gold medal ever in the sport of Nordic Combined. The four-man bobsled team won the first U.S. bobsled gold in over 60 years.

And business issues aside, Vonn and Miller are worthy candidates as well, as the first American female Olympic downhill champion and the most decorated American alpine skier in history, respectively.

Given that Wheaties boxes have featured figure skating champion Sarah Hughes and all-around gymnastics champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin in recent years, Lysacek would be a logical choice to appear on a cover as well.

The athletes that are chosen will join a select group and further etch their places in American sports history.

The votes here are for Demong for his historic accomplishment in putting a Nordic sport on the map in the United States, Vonn for her celebrity and sustained excellence over the past three years, and Lysacek for an unforgettable championship performance and Olympic moment. But all nine American gold medalists would be worthy of an orange box cover.

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