Pizza Acrobatics Is a Real Sport, and You're Going to Love Watching It

Some of us may consider eating pizza to be a sport, simply based on the strategy and pacing required to finish off an entire pie in one sitting, but alas, it is not. However, pizza does play a central role in a little-known athletic pursuit that attracts competitors from all across the world. 

Welcome to the wild world of competitive Pizza Acrobatics.

While the name conjures imagery of people carefully balancing cheesy deep dish slices on limbs while performing a series of flips and twirls, pizza acrobatics specifically involves just the tossing of pizza dough, not cooked pies. That's not to say it's just pizzeria pros showing off their traditional dough-throwing skills. To the contrary: it's all about about pulling off impressive dough tricks with flair. 

Serious PAs have two main opportunities every year to show off their skills and compete to earn the title of World Pizza Champion -- at the World Pizza Championships in Italy, or the World Pizza Games, which are held during the annual Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. Great Big Story recently produced a short video about the latter, revealing just what goes down during the competition. It's a lot more athletic than you might imagine.

tony gemignani
Tony Gemignani |

"It's kind of like what a Harlem Globetrotter does with a basketball, we do with a pizza," the 12-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani explains in the video. That means throwing dough in the air, over the shoulder, through the legs, down the arm, and juggling multiple dough discs simultaneously, all while doing doing jumps, spins, and cartwheels. Each acrobat performs their two to three-minute routine in front of a panel of three to five judges, who're looking for things like dexterity, creativity, difficulty, as well as transitions from trick to trick, and whether the dough gets dropped at all. Gemignani doesn't just hold the distinction of being a 12-time champion, he also holds two dough-centric Guinness World Records, including one for most consecutive across-the-shoulder rolls in 30 seconds (it was 37, by the way), and even has an exceedingly complicated dough-throwing trick named after him. 

If you're interested in trying your hand, you don't necessarily need an endless supply of dough to practice with. In fact, most competitive PAs actually train and practice using artificial pizza dough (which is indeed a thing). 

Here's to hoping the International Olympic Committee is paying attention.

h/tAtlas Obscura

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.