1978 Flashback: Bruce Jenner, Wheaties, and the ‘Breakfast of Champions’

With America fixated on all things Bruce Jenner and the anticipation around his Diane Sawyer interview Friday night on ABC, it seemed an interesting moment to revisit another time when he captured the country’s attention.

In 1978, Jenner snagged one of the sports world’s biggest honors: appearing on the Wheaties cereal box. While this might not sound impressive in today’s era of multi-million dollar endorsement deals, back then it was one of the ultimate prizes for a top athlete.

A lot of people know Jenner today from his relationship to the Kardashian clan. But decades ago, he became a national hero after he nabbed the gold medal in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics for the decathlon. This triumph meant more than most: In the 1972 Olympics, the U.S. lost the decathlon, an event the country had won in past Games, to the Soviets. For many, Jenner’s win was a symbolic victory for the U.S. over its Cold War enemy.

Several versions of Bruce Jenner’s Wheaties box were produced. (Photo: Handout/Yahoo)

“Jenner is twirling the nation like a baton. He and wife, Chrystie, are so high up on the pedestal of American heroism, it would take a crane to get them down,” New York Times reporter Tony Kornheiser wrote in an article entitled “Bruce Jenner: Apple Pie Hero.”

Jenner with wife Chrystie in the late ‘70s. Photo credit: Gary Lewis/mptvimages

Along with appearing on the famous orange cereal box, Jenner also starred in a commercial that ran in 1978. The ad features snippets of Jenner taking the gold medal in the decathlon — throwing a discus, sprinting, and carrying the American flag after his win. Then the footage cuts to Jenner, presumably in the kitchen of his Malibu home, pouring himself a bowl of cereal. A box of Wheaties bearing his image sits front and center.

“I really worked hard getting ready for that day,” Jenner says to the camera. “I put in a lot of years, and put away a lot of Wheaties. Because a complete breakfast with Wheaties is good tasting, and good for you.”

Jenner served as the spokesman for Wheaties from 1977 to 1979.

After the Olympics, Jenner abandoned sports and he pursued many avenues to capture more of the limelight, including sports commentary and acting. After his first two marriages ended in divorce, he married Kris Kardashian in 1991. A spate of reality TV show appearances followed, leading up to the wildly popular “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” which debuted in 2007.

Years later, Jenner said that “being on the Wheaties box single-handedly was the most defining moment” of his career, other than winning his Olympics gold medal, according to the corporate blog of General Mills, which owns Wheaties.

All of that could change Friday.