Pizza acrobatics is a sport. This man has received 13 world championships.


Tony Gemignani began spinning pizza dough when he was 17. Crowds at his brother’s pizzeria in Castro Valley, Calif., would watch in awe as he tossed dough 15-feet within the air, earlier than seamlessly sliding it by his legs, throughout his shoulders and round his again like a basketball. He by no means dropped it.

“I cherished it, and prospects cherished it,” mentioned Gemignani.

Greater than three a long time later, Gemignani, now 49, has turn out to be an acclaimed pizza acrobat, with 13 world championship titles beneath his belt, seven of that are for acrobatics, and 6 for cooking. He has received a number of Guinness World Information, too, together with “largest pizza base spun in [two] minutes.” (The pie was 33.2 inches large.)

“Tips that you simply see a Harlem Globetrotter do with a basketball, we do with a pizza,” he mentioned.

Pizza acrobatics, generally known as pizza freestyle or pizza tossing, has been round for the reason that Eighties. The game — it’s really considered a sport — entails tossing mounds of stretched pizza dough within the air, and performing jaw-dropping tricks with it. The dough seemingly defies gravity, launching straight within the air in good round disks. Some acrobats can maintain two pizzas twirling at a time.

It could be an uncommon passion, however tossing pizza isn’t any joke. Like different aggressive sports activities, it requires focus, coordination, bodily power and — maybe most necessary — observe. A lot of observe.

“It’s arduous. You want agility,” mentioned Gemignani, who initially practiced pizza spinning with moist seaside towels that he minimize and sowed collectively to type a 16-inch circle. “There’s some stamina concerned. You’d be stunned.”

Tony Gemignani, an acclaimed pizza acrobat, has received seven world championships for spinning pizza dough. (Video: The Washington Publish)

Plus, he added, pizza dough is extremely fragile in contrast with typical juggling props, and its elasticity is influenced by numerous components which can be past an acrobat’s management. Heat climate, as an example, makes the dough softer — and extra vulnerable to midair tearing.

“It’s versatile, it will possibly rip, it adjustments in form,” Gemignani mentioned, explaining that dough for acrobatics differs from common pizza dough, and is made with triple the salt and particular flour for sturdiness. “It’s all the time somewhat totally different each time you do it. The dough is all the time altering.”

The problem, although, is a part of what attracts Gemignani to the game. Over time, he has attended — and received — many pizza acrobatic competitions, together with the annual World Pizza Games in Las Vegas (which is a part of the Worldwide Pizza Expo & Convention), and the Pizza World Championships in Parma, Italy — the most important pizza present on this planet.

Worldwide pizza makers — or “pizzaiolos” — journey from close to and much to attend the yearly occasions.

He broke off their engagement in 1963. Sixty years later, they tied the knot.

“Opponents from around the globe all fly in and compete,” mentioned Gemignani, who was born in Fremont, Calif., and has Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Native American roots.

Athletes, as they’re known as on the competitions, hail from throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Morocco, Sweden, France, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and naturally, Italy. They spend all 12 months making ready and working towards their acrobatic acts.

There may be normally a charge of about $100 to enter within the competitions, although many contenders are sponsored by firms within the business. Winners sometimes take dwelling money prizes, however in lots of competitions, “it’s bragging rights and medals,” Gemignani mentioned.

Whereas every competitors has its personal algorithm and protocols, contenders all the time choreograph their very own three-minute routines, that are accompanied by music and carried out in entrance of a stay viewers. A panel of a number of professional judges then critique them on numerous components, together with dexterity, issue, showmanship, synchronization and creativity. Factors are deducted for dropped dough.

She rescues child squirrels: ‘They’re fairly harmful. I don’t care. I like them.’

“You shouldn’t drop it that a lot,” mentioned Gemignani, who has began about 40 pizzerias throughout the nation, together with the well-known Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, within the coronary heart of San Francisco’s Little Italy. “You’ve acquired to tug it off and be the most effective you possibly can.”

Whereas pizza acrobatics is a distinct segment sport, it’s really considerably standard in contrast with different uncommon contests on the market, together with bee-bearding challenges, nail art competitions, excessive ironing tournaments and worm charming championships.

Though Gemignani has carried out “hundreds of instances” over the course of his profession, “I nonetheless get nervous,” he mentioned, including that along with competitions, he has traveled the world — from London to Thailand — tossing pizzas at most cancers camps, native festivals, sporting video games, talk shows, fundraising occasions and different gatherings, giant and small. He particularly loves performing for teenagers.

“It’s so rewarding,” mentioned Gemignani, who has an 8-year-old son named Giovanni. In 2009, Gemignani revealed a youngsters’s ebook about pizza acrobatics, known as “Tony and the Pizza Champions.”

Along with performing methods with dough, Gemignani’s main ardour is making pizza. With regards to pizza fashion, he doesn’t discriminate.

“I rejoice each fashion of pizza. I’ve each kind of oven,” he mentioned, including that his new fast-casual franchise idea known as “Slice House” affords 5 totally different kinds of pizza: Detroit, grandma, Sicilian, New York and California. There are gluten-free choices as nicely.

“I might by no means get sick of pizza,” mentioned Gemignani, who additionally teaches cooking programs, together with on the Pizza University & Culinary Arts Center in Maryland. “I might eat it daily.”

Lately, Gemignani has centered extra on cooking than performing, although he’s nonetheless very concerned within the pizza acrobatics scene. He helps set up the annual competitions in Las Vegas, and is the keynote speaker for the upcoming World Pizza Games, which will likely be held from March 28 to 30 on the Las Vegas Conference Heart.

He has turn out to be a buddy and mentor to many up-and-coming pizza performers, together with Tara Hattan, 26, an award-winning acrobat from Tulsa. She has clinched six gold medals and was the primary lady to win the World Pizza Video games.

“I like the joy,” mentioned Hattan, who’s the co-owner of Zasa’s Pizza & Wings — which has two areas in Tulsa. “My physique takes management, and I simply throw dough.”

Like Gemignani, she began tossing pizza in her teenagers whereas working at a pizzeria in Owasso, Okla., to make some extra cash. She realized several tricks on YouTube, and rapidly acquired the grasp of it.

Hattan loved it a lot, that she ultimately determined to drop out of faculty and pursue a profession within the pizza business full-time.

“This makes me glad,” mentioned Hattan, including that she attributes a lot of her success to her pizza grasp predecessors — together with Gemignani — who’ve guided her alongside the best way.

“All of them are simply so skilled and so educated,” she mentioned. “It’s so nice to have folks like that.”

A scholar wanted medical care and a house. His lecturers adopted him.

Though competitors will be stiff, the pizza tossing neighborhood prides itself on being supportive. It could be a critical sport, however most contenders do it for enjoyable.

On the finish of the day, Gemignani mentioned, pizza is one of the most popular foods on this planet for a cause.

“Pizza all the time takes you again to a time when issues had been a lot easier in life,” he mentioned. “No stress, no politics. It’s nearly consuming nice meals and having time.”

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