New Celebrity Athlete for the Breakfast of Champions’ : Gold-Medal Winners Lose to Non-Olympian for Latest Wheaties’ Cover

United Press International

Sorry, Greg Louganis.

Too bad, Carl Lewis.

No go, Flo-Jo.

Although you all struck gold at the 1988 Olympics, Wheaties, “the Breakfast of Champions,” doesn’t want your winning smiles on its orange cardboard boxes.


General Mills, the cereal maker, said long before the Olympic flame was even brought to Seoul, it picked a non-Olympian who is to be unveiled next month as its seventh cover “celebrity athlete” in 30 years.

“We know who it will be, but I can’t tell you. I can’t even tell you if the person is a ‘he’ or ‘she,’ a professional or an amateur,” said Kathryn Newton, a General Mills spokeswoman in Minneapolis.

Newton said Wheaties, which first appeared on kitchen tables in 1924, never considered Louganis, Lewis, Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith Joyner--or any of a host of other American Olympians, and has no plans to do so now.

“We just didn’t. We haven’t always had an Olympian, and this year we had already picked someone else,” she said. “But in the future, it’s a possibility. Who knows.”


At least one 1988 Olympian, Jay Barrs, 26, of Mesa, Ariz., gold medalist in archery, voiced interest. “One of my goals in life is to be on the Wheaties box. My loyalty to Wheaties has stood the test of time,” he was quoted as saying.

No thanks, Jay.

“I never heard of the guy,” said James Nuckols, General Mills’ product manager. “Basically, we go for the very, very big name athlete who has captured the heart of America.”

Wheaties is often contacted by athletes seeking to endorse the product and make some money. Sometimes, those who are rejected aren’t particularly good losers.

After the 1984 Olympics, Wheaties put Mary Lou Retton, gold medalist in gymnastics, on its cover--raising the ire of Carl Lewis, who won four gold medals in track that year.

“Carl Lewis said he should have been chosen because he won more medals,” Newton recalled. “We said we picked Mary Lou because of the excitement and magic she created.”

Despite Newton’s comments that a non-Olympian has been selected this year, Nuckols said the deal, worth an undisclosed amount of money, “hasn’t been totally nailed down.” Regardless, the new cover is expected within 30 days.

Since last May, Wheaties’ “cover-athlete” has been Douglas Smith, 24, of Estes Park, Colo., a member of the Wheaties-Schwinn pro bicycle team, who is to be gone like the wind--and from the box--by Thanksgiving.


Throughout the years, Wheaties has had six cover “celebrity athletes.” The first three were Olympians. In addition to Retton, the two others were:

--Bob Richards, gold medalist in pole vaulting 1952 and 1956; became first cover star April 22, 1958, and periodically appeared through 1969.

--Bruce Jenner, 1976 decathlon winner, appeared on the cover from 1977 to 1979.

The last three cover stars were pros:

--Baseball player Pete Rose, appearing in 1985 and 1986.

--Football player Walter Payton, in 1986, 1987 and 1988.

--Tennis player Chris Everett, who made it in 1987.

Between stints by celebrity stars, Wheaties has used drawings of “generic athletes.” A few years ago, Wheaties had a “Search for Champions” contest in which winning amateur jocks were put on the cover.


Prior to the advent of Wheaties’ cover stars, and even after it, dozens of jocks have appeared on the back of its box--including baseball greats Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio.

So close has the tie been between sports and Wheaties that heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer and baseball star Lou Gehrig, during radio ads for competing cereal brands, both said they ate Wheaties.

Last year, Wheaties served up a first when it saluted title teams--the baseball Minnesota Twins, the football Washington Redskins and the basketball Los Angeles Lakers--on cereal boxes distributed regionally.

Newton said today’s “cover athletes” are signed to an undisclosed contract and, in addition to appearing on the box, do advertisements.

“We have three criteria,” she said. “The athlete must have achieved an outstanding career in his or her sport; fit Wheaties’ wholesome aura and have accomplishments outside the sports arena, like some sort of charity work.”

Must they also eat Wheaties?

“No, that isn’t a requirement,” Newton said. “But we hope they have. I don’t know of an individual (cover star) who hadn’t eaten Wheaties before we talked to them. Several did as kids and still do.”