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Athletes ‘twinkle’ on reality show

May 27, 2008
By Kellie Goodman, For the Mirror
What do Indy car driver, Helio Castronevez, Olympic speed skater Apollo Anton Ohno and NFL legend Emmitt Smith have in common? They’re all champions of dance.

ABC’s guilty pleasure, “Dancing with the Stars,’’ pairs celebrities with professional ballroom dancers for a three-month challenge of skill and sequins. The stars range from actors to rappers and talk show hosts to country singers, but it’s the athletes who have dominated the last four cycles of competition.

Most recently, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi defeated Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor in the finals, and it was actually reported on ESPN’s Sportscenter.

Yamaguchi has been the most natural of the athletic competitors, possibly at an unfair advantage, considering the parallels between dance and her skating routines. Still, to adapt from solo performances to working with a skilled partner in complicated foxtrots and tangos is impressive.

And that’s what makes watching the athletes on “Dancing with the Stars’’ so much fun. You might expect a boxer like Laila Ali to be light on her feet, but a professional defensive lineman? For Taylor to go from rushing quarterbacks to sashaying around the dance floor is a stretch to say the least. The audience demographic of “Dancing with the Stars’’ is presumably much different from that of Monday Night Football. Taylor wouldn’t have garnered enough viewer votes to make the finals if he hadn’t earned it.

The athletes take this competition seriously. The degree of training, hard work and dedication that it takes to learn a mambo or samba (in a week) is evident. To be able to perform the paso doble or quickstep well enough to avoid humiliation in front of a national television audience is remarkable.

In truth, all of the athletes cast on “Dancing with the Stars’’ probably have an unfair advantage over their non-athletic counterparts.

Who would know better the importance of precision than a race car driver whose very life depends on specific steering adjustments and split-second decisions?

Who would know better the value of balance than an Olympic speed skater who won gold making hairpin turns on a one-quarter-inch blade?

Who would know better the virtue of managing pressure than a Super Bowl MVP?

Really, it’s no wonder these world class competitors have found success on the dance floor. They’re just winners. That mirrored ball statue may not be the most coveted award in the trophy case, but it sure beats the alternative — losing.

What’s really fun is watching the athletes’ true personalities come through. Smith was nicknamed “Twinkle Toes’’ by one of the judges but is most remembered for his effervescent smile. Castronevez and Ohno were simply charming outside of their comfort zones. Jerry Rice and Taylor revealed what true gentlemen they are off the football field.

As for future “Dancing with the Stars’’ casting calls? My suggestions include Ben Roethlisberger, Sidney Crosby and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Now that would be a rumba worth watching.

Kellie can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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