BOSTON — As American grocery shoppers walk down the cereal aisle in the coming weeks, they will be reminded of what women athletes can accomplish. Pictured on Wheaties boxes are 15 smiling members of the United States women's ice hockey team that won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Astute observers, however, will notice that there's something missing, namely a handful of players.
The Invisible Five (Tara Mounsey, Sara DeCosta, A.J. Mleczko, Angela Ruggiero, and Jenny Schmidgall) all participated in the first Olympic hockey tournament for women, but unlike their teammates, they plan to start or continue intercollegiate varsity hockey careers. To be eligible they must abide by college rules that prohibit athletes from endorsing commercial products that bring themselves or others financial gain.
"It's a rule, and we were aware of it coming into this, but it's a bummer," said Mounsey, a student at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
The Wheaties box has special significance in sports circles because of the cereal's reputation as "the breakfast of champions." The tradition of using star athletes as endorsers began in the 1930s, when Johnny Weismuller, an Olympic swimmer, was one of the first so enlisted. A number of Olympians have followed Weismuller onto the box, including pole vaulter Bob Richards, decathlete Bruce Jenner, gymnast Mary Lou Retton, and swimmer Amy Van Dyken.
After the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, five different boxes were produced, featuring track stars Michael Johnson and Dan O'Brien, swimmers Tom Dolan and Van Dyken, and the US women's gymnastics team. This time, General Mills selected just the women's hockey team, bypassing such strong candidates as skier Picabo Street and figure skater Tara Lipinski.