Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Vito Aiming For Big Dance

From stltoday.com:

Vito aiming for big dance
Sunday, Jan. 10 2010

Perpetually rumpled and shaggy, relatively anonymous and absolutely committed to non-conformity, 5-foot-5 and a blank slate when it came to dancing, snowboarder Louie Vito was both an improbable invitee and participant for "Dancing With The Stars."

"Who would have thought they'd want somebody from snowboarding?" he said at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit last fall in Chicago.

But he considered the offer to take part in a show seen by an estimated 22 million people a week a once in a lifetime opportunity, certainly for himself but also for his sport.

"I think it's about to hit the mainstream hard," Vito said.Reflecting the conflict between the sports' aspirations to grow and gain further recognition while staying true to its Gen X roots, Vito said he had to contend with "haters" who accused him of selling out by taking part. Fellow snowboarder Steve Fisher, though, wasn't among them."I'm proud of the little guy," he said.

Vito, a prime contender for the U.S. team to be determined later this month for the upcoming Vancouver Olympics, scoffed at the naysayers, saying he wasn't going to suddenly try to be "Mr. Cool" instead of a snowboarder.

"That's who I am," he said, "and that's who I'm going to portray on the show."

Considering how cleaned-up Vito looked during his partnership with dancer Chelsie Hightower, that might be a matter for debate. And as someone who got into his sport largely because "no one could say you have to do it their way," he found it a challenge to have to do disciplined steps.

But there's little doubt that his appearances reaped publicity for U.S. Snowboarding, even if he was eliminated in Week Six with judges cracking wise about Vito saying "he got all wacko" on one dance and looking "slightly dazed and confused" on another.

Those labels, of course, have been thrust on Vito and his brethren almost since they began their uneasy alliance with the Olympic movement in 1998. Snowboarders have claimed 14 medals since, including seven in the 2006 Turin Games. But they also have had trouble superimposing their free-spirited culture over the stodgier Olympics, resulting in controversies such as several failed drug tests and the Lindsey Jacobellis incident in Italy.

Jacobellis finished with a silver medal in snowboard-cross after crashing while hot-dogging with the gold medal within her grasp. Her act was completely consistent with the slacker ways of snowboarding and utterly contrary to the Olympic ethos.

During a teleconference afterwards, Jacobellis treated it rather casually, saying, "It's just a race, and anything can happen." That stoked a veteran Olympic reporter, who responded, "Just a race?! Not an Olympic gold?!"

Jacobellis responded that she had just won the first silver ever in the event, "So you have to give me something." But the call ended abruptly with her in tears.

Vito began training for the reality show in mid-August and immersed himself in the competition, an event he expects to help him in more ways than one. Beyond the exposure, Vito reckoned that training in dance for four to six hours a day helped his conditioning and flexibility.

"My (hunched) snowboard posture doesn't really work for the ballroom," he said.

When it was over, Vito said he had no idea he would be so "bummed" not to win.

But he also said that competing in Vancouver on the Olympic stage would be "a breeze" after being under such high-profile pressure — against the grain as it might have been.

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