Tommie Smith is to appear on a special edition Wheaties box to mark his podium protest at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City ©Wheaties

Olympic gold medallist Tommie Smith, sent home from Mexico City 1968 by the United States after he raised a black-gloved fist on the medal podium following his victory in the 200 metres, is to appear on the cover of a special edition of a Wheaties cereal box.

The iconic General Mills cereal brand, which for decades has been synonymous with celebrity athletes on the cover of its orange boxes, has announced the "racial equity trailblazer" will be honoured with a limited-edition box in April.

"As a world champion, I always wanted to be on a Wheaties box," Smith, who is now 76, said.

"To now be recognized by Wheaties and selected to grace the cover of their box, in the class with other great champion athletes, is an honour."

The boxes are available for pre-order from the Minneapolis-based company starting at $5 (£3.50/€4.00) in April with all proceeds going to the NAACP - the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

On one side of the box Smith is to be shown as a black silhouette raising a right fist and standing on a podium while the other side shows a young Smith running in a vest.

Smith and compatriot John Carlos finished first and third, respectively, at the Mexico City Olympics and then launched an unprecedented protest on behalf of oppressed black Americans when they stood on the podium with heads bowed and fists raised.

The image became an enduring symbol of the turbulent 1960s and the fight for racial equality. 

It was widely interpreted as a black power salute, but Smith later described it as a "human rights salute".

The protest, which occurred amid the civil rights movement in the US and not long after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, cost both sprinters dearly.

At home they were heroes to their contemporaries, and pariahs to the establishment.

Both were suspended from the US Olympic team and sent home, where they received death threats and hate mail.

Carlos’s wife committed suicide, Smith’s first marriage collapsed and both men struggled for years to make a living.

"While Tommie was a world champion runner, his work as one of the original activist athletes laid the foundation for champions to use their platform and stand for something extraordinary," said Taylor Gessell, brand experience manager for Wheaties.

"We are proud to honour this true champion and trailblazer with this special commemorative Wheaties box."

Wheaties has been highlighting athletes on its cereal boxes for nearly 90 years, starting with New York Yankees great and Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig in 1934.

But an African-American did not appear on a box for the first time until more than half-a-century later when, in 1986, American footballer Walton Payton was featured. 

To order the limited edition Wheaties box featuring Smith click here.