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Pizza tossing acrobats flip, roll, spin for dough in Las Vegas

The Freestyle Acrobatic Dough Tossing Competition of this year’s edition of the World Pizza Games Wednesday evening didn’t have any competitors balanced on teammates’ shoulders or rainlike showers of flour, as was the case last year. What it did have was eyebrow-raising displays of dexterity and impressive athleticism that clearly wowed the judges, who responded with lots of scores in the nine-to-10 range.

The competition was part of the Pizza Expo’s annual Block Party, a celebratory event that capped the last full day of the conference. Audience members were treated to a marriage proposal involving two people who met at the expo two years ago (he teared up; she said yes), and the induction by 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani (who has Pizza Rock in downtown Las Vegas, and who revived the games in 2005) of five new members of the World Pizza Champions team, which honors people who have made major contributions to the craft.

And then it was on to Acrobatic Dough Tossing. The competition was judged on dexterity, difficulty, synchronization to the chosen music, variety of the routine, and creativity/entertainment value. Creativity immediately surfaced as a high point on the part of Juntae Jin, who led off the first-division competitors and ended up winning his heat.

Jin, dressed in black emblazoned with the name of his employer, the Mr. Pizza Korean pizza behemoth, had his hair dyed blonde/green and competed with Joker-like makeup and a device in his mouth that emitted a multicolored light show. And he ended by shooting off a device that sent Mr. Pizza handbills flying all over the stage.

But Jin’s performance wasn’t just about shiny diversions; he handled the flexible discs of dough (each competitor can use up to 10) as though they were solid shapes — sort of like Frisbees — demonstrating remarkable dexterity as he moved them with uncanny control. As the winner of the first division (and $1,000) Jin could choose to join the Master’s Division competition that followed, and he did.

Jin shone again, as did Scott Volpe of Tucson, Arizona, the defending first-division champion. Volpe launched himself through a series of acrobatic moves that at times evoked break-dancing, moving the dough as though it were extensions of his hands.

He was slightly outshone by Takumi Tachikawa of Japan, who wowed the audience early in his routine by rolling a disc of dough, as though it were a solid wheel, along the stainless-steel table on the stage.

The winner, though, was Moon Ky Lee, a colleague of Jin at Mr. Pizza (which, as it turns out, has an acrobatic dough-tossing team) and who wowed the judges with quick and continual manipulation of dough discs, juggling them and spinning around his various body parts. His prize: $1,000.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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