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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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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Curling: A Beginner's Guide to Where and How to Learn to Curl
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Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

To the casual spectator, curling raises several questions. What are the players yelling about, for instance, and is all the sweeping really that important? The viewers who are only aware of the sport for two weeks every four years may also wonder if curling is still a thing when the winter Olympics are no longer in session. The answer, of course, is yes, and you don't need to be training for the big event to learn the game.

Curling may not have the mainstream appeal of other winter sports like skiing or ice-skating, but it's still accessible to amateurs if you know where to look. If you're a complete beginner, the best way to jump into the sport is to find your local curling club. Some clubs have spaces of their own dedicated to curling, while others are part of larger rinks that are also used for general ice skating. Team USA and the Shot Rock Curling Supplies company both offer interactive maps on their websites you can use to search curling clubs in your area.

Once you've found your club, the next step is learning the sport. Many curling clubs offer classes for beginners to develop the rudimentary skills required to deliver stones and sweep ice. Programs might consist of one session or a course spanning several weeks. Once you have a handle on the basics, you'll be prepared to get back on the ice and compete.

But unlike other sports, finding the right tools, people, and space necessary to actually play the sport isn't so easy. Fortunately, curling clubs also organize leagues for varying skill levels that provide all of that for you. To play you'll first have to pay a membership fee, but once you've signed up you'll be a part of a team that shares your commitment to the game.

This is the same way many Olympic athletes got involved in the sport, but it's a worthy hobby whether or not you aspire to go for the gold one day. The Oakville Curling Club in Ontario writes on their website: "It is a lifelong sport that can be learned at any age. Whether playing in a fun league or in a competitive ladder the emphasis is always on sportsmanship and fair play. Being a social sport by nature, it is not uncommon for teams to socialize off the ice where lasting friendships are often made."

Check out these cool facts about curling to learn the basics of how the game is played.

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