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Thursday
Aug162012

Breakups, Betrayals, Backsliding: The Soap Opera World Of Olympic Cereal Boxes

By Barry Janoff

August 16, 2012: Michael Phelps used to grace cereal boxes for Kellogg's, but they dumped him so he now finds his image on a cereal box for rival General Mills, with whom he had a relationship in 2004.

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh have won three consecutive Olympic gold medals and have been beach volleyball teammates for more than a decade, but they are now rivals in the cereal aisle, with Misty on the cover of a new Wheaties box and Kerri no where to be found due to her endorsement deal with rival Kellogg's.

In the world of General Mills versus Kellogg's, it is business as usual down to the last bite of cereal.

General Mills' Wheaties, aka "The Breakfast of Champions" said it would honor the accomplishments of Phelps and May-Treanor, two gold medal athletes "who have changed and elevated their sports through ground-breaking performances.

Limited-edition Wheaties boxes with Phelps and May-Treanor, respectively, were officially unveiled today, and will be available nationally beginning next month.

Phelps, arguably the greatest U.S. Olympic athlete of all time, is no stranger to cereal boxes. He was on the cover of Wheaties following the 2004 Games in Athens, but subsequently signed a deal with Kellogg's.

Kellogg's put him on the cover of both Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes in 2008 following his gold medal record-setting showing during the Summer Games in Beijing. But Kellogg's chose not to renew its alliance with the swimmer in February 2009 following the release of a photo showing Phelps using a bong. So eventually he swam back to General Mills.

May-Treanor, meanwhile, gets a solo spotlight with Wheaties following her gold medal showing in beach volleyball, her third such honor with longtime teammate and friend Walsh, who was by her side in 2004 at Athens, 2008 in Beijing and earlier this month in London.

But Walsh is part of Team Kellogg, so the two cereal giants have done what countless opponents have not — split apart one of the greatest tandems in Olympic history.

Wheaties is not an official sponsor or supplier of the U.S. Olympic Committee, so their boxes cannot feature Olympic emblems or the gold medals that Phelps and May-Treanor have won.

But Kellogg is an official USOC partner. As such, the cereal maker has carte blanche access to Olympic symbols.

So when the company releases a Corn Flakes box in September featuring the U.S. gymnastic Fierce Five — Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber — it will show each of them holding a gold medal. And Gabby Douglas will get her own limited-edition Corn Flakes box this fall, complete with symbolic Olympic adornments.

Prior to the Games, Kellogg unveiled a limited-edition Corn Flakes box featuring swimmer Rebecca Soni, who earned two gold and one silver medal in London. Soni and others on Team Kellogg also starred in Kellogg's Olympic-themed marketing, "From Great Starts Come Great Things," which included a TV spot that aired during the Games.

But being on a cereal box does not make athletes and their endorsement deals immune to controversy.

Phelps may be the most notable, but he certainly is not alone in Kellogg's Olympic cereal box infamy.

Marion Jones had a cereal box cover in 2000, when she was regarded as the "fastest woman in the world." Her image on Frosted Flakes coincided with the Summer Olympics in Sydney, during which she won five medals in track and field. She has since forfeited those medals following her admission in 2007 that she used performance-enhancing drugs.

Wheaties is expecting no such downfall from Phelps and May-Treanor.

“Michael Phelps and Misty May-Treanor have inspired others to get out and achieve their own personal best,” Jim Wilson, Wheaties marketing, said in a statement. “Wheaties is proud to honor them and to fuel athletes everywhere.”

According to Phelps, “I received a lot of comparisons throughout my career, but I always wanted to be the best that I could be. I wanted to do something that nobody else had done before and I wanted to change the sport of swimming. Thanks to Wheaties and their support of my Foundation, I hope that my accomplishments will help inspire others to pursue their dreams."

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