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The History of the Olympics, According to Wheaties Boxes

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Life cereal may have cornered the market on cute with Little Mikey, but Wheaties has got serious game. For 80 years, the brand has been backing up its reputation as “The Breakfast of Champions” by featuring more than 500 athletes on its box (not all of them on the front). The tradition has been a cherished one amongst Olympic athletes in particular, whose front-and-center presence on a cardboard box full of wheat and bran flakes seems to be as nearly coveted as the gold medal itself. Here’s a brief history of the Olympics, as told by Wheaties boxes.

1. BABE DIDRIKSON (1935)

In 1935, Babe Didrikson—who gold medaled in hurdles and the javelin throw at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles—became the first female athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties (albeit on the back).

2. JESSE OWENS (1936)

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Track and field star James “Jesse” Owens, who wowed the crowds by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, was the first black athlete to appear on the cereal box. He made a second appearance in 2003.

3. BOB RICHARDS (1958)

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In 1958, two-time Olympic pole vaulting champion (he took home the gold in 1952 and 1956) was the first athlete to make the front of a Wheaties box. But Richards was more than just a familiar mug used to generate sales. In 1956, he was chosen from more than 500 other athletes to serve as the cereal’s spokesperson, a role he continued through 1970. “I saw it more as a mission than a job,” Richards told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “What we did was vastly more important than making money … Now guys like [Michael] Jordan go on and say, ‘You'd better eat your Wheaties,’ but we went around the country talking to people.”

4. BRUCE JENNER (1977)

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Before he was an unofficial member of the Kardashian clan, Bruce Jenner actually achieved something: a gold medal in the Decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, which turned him into a pretty major celebrity in the 1980s. So much so that he actually replaced Erik Estrada on CHiPs. (Which was a like totally big deal at the time.)

5. MARY LOU RETTON (1984)

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Thirty years ago, gymnast Mary Lou Retton won five medals at the Summer Olympics, which she followed up with yet another impressive achievement when she became the first female athlete to be featured on the front of a Wheaties box. Her beloved mug showed up again in 1999 and 2012.

6. MICHAEL JORDAN (1988)

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Michael Jordan was already an NBA superstar—and gold medalist (as part of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games)—by the time he made his first Wheaties appearance, in 1988. He would go on to win yet another gold medal in 1992, at the Barcelona Olympics, where he was the only player to start in all eight games. He would also set a record for Wheaties’ favorite cover boy: 18 appearances (and counting).

7. U.S. WOMEN'S OLYMPIC GYMNASTICS TEAM (1996)

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Kerri Strug, Shannon Miller, Amanda Borden, Dominique Moceanu, and Jaycie Phelps were among the young women who made history in 1996 when they became the first American team to win a gold medal in gymnastics, beating out the heavily favored teams from Russia and Romania. Wheaties paid tribute to their victory.

8. JIM THORPE (2001)

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It took long enough! Eighty-nine years after he won both the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm (wearing two different shoes he’d rescued from a garbage can after his own kicks were stolen), Jim Thorpe finally made his way to the front of a Wheaties box. Perhaps the delayed accolade was due to the fact that his medals were revoked in 1913, when it was discovered that he had played semi-professional baseball before the Games (a no-no at the time, as only amateurs were allowed to compete). In 1983, 30 years after his passing, the International Olympic Committee decided to restore his titles. Too bad he wasn’t around to savor it!

9. JUSTIN GATLIN (2004)

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Two years after winning a gold medal (plus two silvers and one bronze) in Athens in 2004, sprinter Justin Gatlin was hit with a four-year ban on competing after testing positive for steroids. In 2010, he re-emerged, and added yet another bronze medal to his collection at the 2012 London Games.

10. MICHAEL PHELPS (2004)

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In 2004, Michael Phelps—the most successful Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals—made his first of two Wheaties box appearances. The second one came in 2012, the same year he retired. He was 27 years old. (Time to start practicing that breaststroke, kids.)

11. LINDSEY VONN (2010)

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America’s most decorated skier won the gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics. She’s in Sochi this year, too, but as a correspondent for NBC News.

12. SHAUN WHITE (2010)

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A key figure in the transition of snowboarding from daredevil spectacle to Olympic sport, Shaun White won his first gold medal at the 2006 Games in Turin and did it again in Vancouver in 2010.

13. MISTY MAY-TREANOR (2012)

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Now retired, Misty May-Treanor is the world’s most successful beach volleyball player, having collected more than 100 championships throughout her career, not to mention the three gold medals she spiked in three consecutive Olympic Games (in 2004 in Athens, 2008 in Beijing, and 2012 in London).

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On Top of the World: Remembering the Lost Trend of Flagpole Sitting
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
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Flappers and bootleggers might be the most memorable aspects of the 1920s, but there's a lesser-known, yet no less colorful, trend from that decade: flagpole sitting. From the glamorous hills of Hollywood to the blue-collar dwellings of Union City, New Jersey, this unusual pastime turned eccentric showmen and ordinary people into overnight celebrities, before the crushing reality of the Great Depression grounded their climb to stardom.

Flagpole sitting is exactly what it sounds like: a person climbing on top of a towering pole, usually in the middle of a city, and testing their endurance by sitting atop it for as long as their body holds up. It began in Hollywood in January 1924, when a former sailor, boxer, steelworker, and stuntman named Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly was hired by a local theater to sit on a pole outside of the building for as long as possible to drum up publicity for a new movie. Kelly, a New York City native—whose nickname was supposedly inspired by his dubious claims as a Titanic survivor—wowed crowds by perching himself on the pole for an astonishing 13 hours and 13 minutes. The stunt worked, and once it got picked up by the papers, offers started pouring in from more businesses to perform pole-sittings. Kelly was eager to oblige.

News of Kelly's exploits spread, and before long, men, women, and children were climbing poles of their own. There was the three-week feat of Bobbie Mack, a young woman from Los Angeles; Joe “Hold ‘em” Powers, who sat for 16 days in Chicago in 1927 and climbed back down with six fewer teeth than he started with after a storm smacked him face-first into his pole; and Bill Penfield, who braved a pole for 51 days in Strawberry Point, Iowa before a storm forced him down. In 1928, a 15-year-old named Avon Foreman of Baltimore even established a juvenile sitting record of 10 days, 10 hours, 10 minutes, and 10 seconds (he practiced on an 18-foot hickory tree in his backyard). Foreman’s accomplishment was so inspiring to Baltimore mayor William F. Broening that he publicly declared that the youngster exhibited “the pioneer spirit of early America.”

Still, Kelly was the one making a big business out of pole sitting. Even when he wasn’t holding the record, he was the ambassador of the bizarre sport. He toured 28 cities, attracting massive crowds that jammed streets and lined rooftops just to get a glimpse of the daredevil poking out among the apartment buildings and businesses of Downtown, USA.

Kelly's notable feats included an 80-hour sit in New Orleans and the 146 hours he spent high above Kansas City's Old Westgate Hotel. But even those were overshadowed by his largest-scale stunts: 312 hours on top of Newark’s St. Francis Hotel in 1927, 22 days on a pole above a dance marathon (another endurance fad of the time) in Madison Square Garden, and 23 days in 1929 in Baltimore’s Carlin’s Park on a pole that was 60 feet high. By Kelly’s own calculation, he’d spend around 20,613 hours pole-sitting during a career that lasted over a decade.

His peak came in 1930 when he lasted 49 days and one hour on a 225-foot pole on Atlantic City’s steel pier. The feat was witnessed by as many as 20,000 onlookers during the weeks he spent up top, becoming one of the first of many spectacles that would grace the pier in the 1930s. (He’d eventually be followed by acts like Rex, the water-skiing “wonder dog”; JoJo, the boxing kangaroo; and the city’s infamous diving horse routine.)

Estimates of Kelly’s fees range from $100-$500 a day throughout his career, paid by whatever outlet needed the publicity and sometimes by crowds who spent a quarter to get a view of his act from nearby hotel rooftops. And what did those onlookers see, exactly? A man on a circular padded seat high above the rabble, sometimes reading the paper, other times enjoying a shave. For food, he’d stick mainly to a liquid diet of broth and water, along with cigarettes, all of which were lifted up to him in a bucket. When he needed to sleep, he’d stay seated by wrapping his ankles around the pole and securing his thumbs into holes in his seat before nodding off. That's if he rested at all—he was also known to deprive himself of sleep on the pole for as long as four days.

The big money would dry up soon after his Atlantic City stunt, and the realities of the Great Depression put an end to flagpole sitting as a career. With up to a quarter of the population unemployed, people were apparently less interested in opening their papers to stories of men and women testing endurance at the top of a pole for more money than the readers would likely see all year.

"As Shipwreck Kelly analyzed it, it was the Stock Market crash that killed pole-sitting as the golden egg that paid the goose," a writer for The Evening Sun in Baltimore put it in 1944. "People couldn't stand to see anything higher than their busted securities."

Kelly’s personal story ends on a similarly somber note. Penniless and stripped of his daredevil veneer, he died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 59, his body found not far from the room he rented on West 51st Street in New York City. Underneath his arm at the time of his death was a scrapbook of newspaper clippings detailing his accomplishments as a once-champion flagpole sitter.

Though flagpole sitting has fallen out of the public eye since the Depression, it has occasionally shown faint signs of life. In 1963, 17-year-old Alabama native Peggy Townsend cruised past all of Kelly's highest marks by spending 217 days on a pole for a radio contest. That time was later beaten by Kenneth Gidge, who topped her at 248 days in 1971 before becoming an artist, inventor, and New Hampshire state representative later in life.

Today, the occasional pole-sitter still pops up in the news, though they're now most likely perched for protests or as living art installations. Regardless of the purpose behind it, it's unlikely that a person atop a flagpole will ever attract a sea of thousands of onlookers again—and the days when a man like Kelly could become a household name and dub himself the "Luckiest Fool on Earth" seem long gone.

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This Water Bottle Doubles as a Foam Roller
Mobot
Mobot

It hydrates and it massages. The MOBOT bottle, as spotted by Outside magazine, is being billed as “the world’s first and only foam roller water bottle,” and many outdoor and adventure enthusiasts swear by it.

The stainless steel bottle is wrapped in non-toxic EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam, which can be rolled along your calves, hamstrings, glutes, or arms to soothe sore muscles and relieve joint paint. It was designed with athletes in mind, but we could see it being used by stressed-out office workers with stiff muscles who could benefit from a little self-care. Plus, the lightweight bottle is great for keeping your beverage cold all day, whether you’re at work, at an amusement park, or at the beach. A top loop allows it to be hooked onto a backpack or beach bag.

The bottle is available in three sizes: the 40-ounce “Big Bertha,” the 18-ounce “Firecracker,” and the 27-ounce “Grace.” There’s a range of colors and patterns to choose from, including neon-colored camouflage for those moments when you can’t decide whether you want to stand out or blend in.

You can order it on Amazon, but some styles have already sold out. Check out MOBOT's video below to see different ways of using the bottle.

[h/t Outside]

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