With the last of the qualifying events for the 2014 U.S. Olympic snowboarding team scheduled for Jan. 16-19 in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., Examiner spoke exclusively with reigning Winter X Games Europe superpipe champion and Sochi hopeful Louie Vito on Jan. 15.
The affable 25-year old Vito, who competed as part of the nation's 2010 Vancouver squad and serves as a representative for Delta's innovative #GoldLuck campaign that allows fans to send video well wishes to Sochi-bound athletes, is ranked fourth behind Greg Bretz, Taylor Gold and Ben Ferguson following the first two Olympic qualifying competitions. The sport's governing body made the controversial decision to throw out the preliminary results of the Jan. 11-12 Grand Prix Finals in Breckenridge, Colo. after bad weather prevented the riders from completing the last round. Vito placed second before the competition was called off.
Although disappointed to be denied the points he would've scored from a second place finish and facing the danger of not making the team with just four halfpipe berths available, Vito gave a metered response to his plight. He called the decision to re-run the third qualifier at Mammoth "the best choice given the card we were dealt" even though a three-event weekend will be something of a "marathon" for the riders.
During the rest of the interview, Vito chatted about Delta's #GoldLuck campaign, a nagging back injury, and his personal pick for the next celebrity breakout star of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
Share a little bit about why you decided to get involved with Delta's #GoldLuck campaign.
Vito: It's always nice when you have a U.S. team sponsor that wants to be involved more than just a name on everything USSA does... and this is one of them, showing support to the athletes, getting the fans involved, getting people involved in different ways. I'm a Delta flyer, I'm on the US snowboard team... it's just a cool company that wanted to get involved and show support to the athletes and the fans and that means a lot to me.
You tweaked your back at Breckenridge; how is it feeling entering the competition at Mammoth this weekend?
Vito: I'm getting there... my back kind of gave me the middle finger in the spring time and told me I needed to chill out. I've been dealing with my back locking up and all that for a while now. It definitely isn't 100% but I'm out there being able to snowboard how I want to. As long as I'm staying proactive with post and pre recovery, I should be good. I'm getting a little PT and keeping it moving.
As of right now, you and Shaun White are going for the same halfpipe nod to Sochi. Is it a little bit intimidating to go up against the two-time defending Olympic champion?
Vito: Shaun's an amazing rider and someone who pushes me every contest to ride better and better. I think riding alongside him will push me, but at the end of the day I'm trying to put down the best run I can, and push myself, and whatever happens, happens. As long as I put down my best run and have no regrets, I can't have any complaints, either.
Do you keep track of any other Winter Olympic sports?
Vito: I'm trying to but we've been so busy it's kind of hard to keep track. Right now I'm trying to focus on myself and then catch up on other sports.
What's the best response you think members of Team USA can have to Russia's controversial anti-gay laws?
Vito: I don't know if there's a best response; my response is I'm trying to get there. I might not agree with it, but at the end of the day I'm happy that I'm living in the U.S. where we have equal rights. I'm trying get there and to bring the focus to the athletes and try to unite everybody through our sport.
What's your pre-competition meal of choice?
Vito: I normally have two eggs, some pineapple and oatmeal.
Let's say it's Friday night and it's raining outside so there's no snowboarding. What are you doing instead?
Vito: I watch a lot of movies, a lot of TV shows. I've been traveling with my X Box One and playing that a lot. Maybe hit the hot tub and the spa just to kind loosen up your body and decompress it.
Since you mentioned movies, what's the best one you've seen lately?
Vito: "Lone Survivor" and I liked "Wolf of Wall Street" too.
I know it's been a while since you were on the show, but aside from [your partner] Chelsie Hightower, which of the "Dancing with the Stars" pros were your favorites to spend time with?
Vito: Tony [Dovolani], Maks [Chmerkovskiy] and Val [Chmerkovskiy]... as far as the guys are people I still keep in contact with and I love seeing whether I go to a show or see them out at night or at an event. Louis Van Amstel too is a super, super cool guy. He and Val were both at Maks and Val's studio, Dance with Me SoHo, when I dropped by when I was in New York and it was good to catch up.
Who do you think would make a good celebrity contestant?
Vito: I always wanted to see [former NFL wide receiver] Terrell Owens on it. I've gotten to be friends with him and he is such a great person, great personality and he's competitive.... I met him [in the summer of 2012] and he gets a bad rap. I didn't know him back in his early years and all that, but in recent years, he's such a great person and an amazing friend, too... I was shocked by how wrong I feel like he's portrayed.
If you weren't snowboarding, what would you be doing?
Vito: Hopefully I'd be finished with college. I really like the business world and communications. My dad owns radio stations so I've been around that my whole life. I've done some commentating and am getting ready to do a little bit more coming up. I like talking, I can talk to anyone. Working with some of the top people in marketing would be a real gift... what sells and what doesn't sell. At the end of the day, that's what kind of makes the world go round.
What's your message to any aspiring Olympians out there?
Vito: Just have fun and push yourself. You can always go further than you think, and even if you don't have the resources or maybe the support that others have, it doesn't mean you can't make it. As long as you work hard, set goals, and have fun, you can do anything.
For a listing of locations where fans can record 10-second video clips to send to athletes competing in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, see a Jan. 9 press release by Delta Airlines.