Olympic Diver Greg Louganis to Appear on Wheaties Box Decades After Winning Gold: 'It Means More Today Than It Would Have Back Then'

"It is so iconic and the honor actually means more today than it would have back then. I feel like I am embraced as a whole person, and not just for my athletics," Greg Louganis tells PEOPLE

Photo: Linda Lenzi

Diving legend Greg Louganis is making his long-awaited Wheaties debut.

The Olympic champion – who took home two gold medals in both the 1984 and 1988 games – joins a long list of greats including Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali, who have both appeared on the box.

“It took over 30 years, but it finally happened – better late than never!” Louganis, 56, tells PEOPLE. “It is so iconic and the honor actually means more today than it would have back then. I feel like I am embraced as a whole person, and not just for my athletics.”

The diver’s photo, which shows the muscled Olympian perfecting an inward pike dive, will start appearing on boxes in May as part of the Wheaties Legends series. Olympic swimmer Janet Evans and hurdler Edwin Moses will also appear on boxes separately.

Louganis’ inclusion in the Wheaties Legends series comes eight months after a documentary about the iconic diver inspired a fan-based petition supported by The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and GLAAD to get his photo on the cereal box. The electronic document received over 43,000 signatures.

The petition’s creator, Julie Sondgerath, claims that General Mills “explained Louganis did not meet their ‘wholesome demographics’ to grace the cover of the famed coveted Wheaties box,” even though he set a diving record in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics by winning two gold medals.

She created the petition after HBO’s Back on Board: Greg Louganis – a documentary chronicling the diver’s journey as he came out as gay and was outed as HIV positive – premiered in 2015.

Louganis harbors “no hard feelings” against Wheaties maker General Mills and says he actually “praises” the company for their diversity and progression over the years.

“I started doing research on General Mills because people were claiming they were homophobic and I found that they are actually really good with representation now,” says Louganis. “We live in a different time now!”

He adds, “I’m really just so honored to be in the company of these athletic legends.”

General Mills spokesperson Mike Siemienas says the decision to put an athlete on the Wheaties box is “not a popularity contest and not about petitions.”

“We receive petitions all the time, and that’s not what sways our decision,” Siemienas tells PEOPLE. “We have a committee that looks at a wide variety of athletes and determines who is most deserving.”

He adds, “There’s so many great athletes and so much competition to get on the box. In 1984 and 1988 we had Mary Lou Retton, America’s sweetheart, and Michael Jordan – who were both very deserving. We stand by our choices back then.”

“Wheaties is an inclusive brand. We are really excited to be recognizing Greg now.”

Louganis doesn’t feel he is owed an apology by General Mills for taking over three decades to feature him on a Wheaties box cover.

“It truly was a sign of the times, it was what it was,” he says. “I competed in my sport that I loved and I was successful. That was good enough for me. My focus wasn’t what I could get out of it, or the fame. That’s not how I was brought up!”

The retired athlete now spends his time mentoring young competitors on the USA diving team.

“The athletes know they can come talk to me about anything, whether it be athletic or personal struggles,” he says. “It’s so important to have a safe person you can go to, who knows what they are going through and who has their best interest at heart. I am supportive no matter the situation.”

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