Strange Paths to Multiple Medals

Getty Images
Getty Images

You might have seen gymnast Oksana Chusovitina pick up a silver medal for Germany in the women's vault final this weekend, an astounding feat for a 33-year-old mother in a sport dominated by girls half her age. Her age alone would make the story noteworthy, but the tale of Chusovitina joining Germany's team after leaving her native Uzbekistan to seek medical care for her young son is truly inspirational. Coupled with her gold team medal for the Unified Team at the 1992 Games, it also meant that she won an Olympic medal for a second country in her Olympic career, a rare occurrence. (American runner Bernard Lagat, who won medals for Kenya in 2000 and 2004 can do the same in the 5,000 meters later this week.)

Oksana Chusovitina is certainly not the only Olympian to travel an unlikely path to multiple medals. Here are some other notable athletes who either earned medals for multiple countries, won in both the Summer and Winter Games, or excelled in sport and art. (Yes, there used to be medals for stuff like city planning.)

Medals at Both the Summer and Winter Games

Picking up medals at both the Summer and Winter Games is obviously tough, since there's not much overlap between the two sets of events. Since the introduction of the Winter Games in 1924, four people have managed to medal at both sets of Games. (Five if you count Gillis Grafstrom, who won a figure skating medal at the final Summer Games to host the event in 1920 and then medaled in figure skating at the first three Winter Games.)

Clara Hughes
Hughes, a Canadian, picked up cycling bronze medals in both the road race and the time trial at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. By 2002 she had returned to speed skating, her original sport, and wrangled a bronze in the 5000 meters at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. As if that wasn't impressive enough, Hughes added a gold in the 5000 meters and silver in the team pursuit at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. She's the only athlete in history to win multiple medals at both the Winter and Summer Games.

Christa Luding
There was a precedent for Hughes' cycling-speed skating double play, though. East German skater Luding was an absolute terror on the ice during a career that saw her rack up gold medals at both the 1984 Games in Sarajevo and the 1988 Games in Calgary. She also picked up a silver medal in Calgary. In 1988, Luding hopped on her bike and won a silver medal in the track cycling sprint at the Summer Games in Seoul to become the only person to ever win summer and winter medals in the same year. Not content with these achievements, Luding then returned to the ice to win a speed skating bronze medal at the 1992 Games in Albertville.

Jacob Tullin Thams
Norwegian Thams grabbed the gold in the individual large hill ski jump at the 1924 Games in Chamonix as part of an illustrious ski jumping career that also included a gold in the same event at the 1926 World Championships. He eventually turned his attentions to sailing, though, and at the 1936 Games in Berlin won silver as part of Norway's eight-meter yachting team.

Eddie Eagan
Although Eagan was born to a poor family in Denver, he managed to use his smarts to make it through college at Yale, law school at Harvard, and later study at Oxford. If anyone called Eagan a nerd, though, he could have made them regret it; he also won a boxing gold as a light heavyweight at the 1920 Games in Antwerp. Eagan became a successful lawyer, but his athletic itch persisted. He took up bobsleigh racing and won a gold as part of the American four-man team at the 1932 Games at Lake Placid. He's still the only person to win a gold medal in both the Summer and Winter Games.

Medal Winners in Sports and Arts

From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics weren't solely the home of athletic struggles; competitors also vied for the medals in various artistic disciplines. Artists could earn medals for their sports-inspired works of architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. The art competition eventually met its doom when organizers realized the artists were professionals and thus not part of the amateur spirit of the Games, but two men managed to snag medals for both sports and arts before an art exhibit replaced the competitive scoring.

"¢ Russian-born, England-based American Walter Winans picked up a pair of medals at the 1908 and 1912 Games as a marksman in the running deer event. He was also serious about sculpture and took home a gold medal in 1912 for his bronze statuette of a horse entitled "An American Trotter."

"¢ Hungarian swimmer Alfred Hajos also pulled off this double. He won two swimming golds at the first modern Games in 1896, and dropped one of the better quips in Olympic history: when the crown prince of Greece asked Hajos where he learned to swim so well, the medalist pithily responded, "In the water." After the Games, Hajos returned to Hungary where he was a dominant track and field athlete and a forward on the national soccer team. He also learned about architecture, the discipline in which he and fellow Hungarian Dezso Lauber won a silver medal in town planning at the 1924 Games in Paris.

Medals for Multiple Countries

Not many other athletes besides Oksana Chusovitina have won medals for multiple countries while their original nation continued fielding teams. One particularly impressive example is Chen Jing, who dominated women's table tennis at the 1988 Games for China, winning both the individual gold and the silver in doubles. She then switched her team allegiances to Chinese Taipei and won a silver in Atlanta and a bronze in Sydney for her new squad.

We'll be watching later this week to see if former Kenyan medalist Bernard Lagat can join the club as he runs the 5,000 meters for the United States.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

The Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

10 Winning Facts about Wheaties

General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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