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U.S. snowboarder Louie Vito fighting to make Olympic squad

By Mike Singer | CBSSports.com

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Louie Vito finished fifth in the halfpipe at the 2010 Games. (USATSI)

His Sochi hopes possibly hanging in the balance, 2010 Olympic snowboarder Louie Vito wasn't thrilled with Saturday's result.

Gusts up to 70 mph and blustering snowfall forced delegates from the International Ski Federation to cancel Saturday's Grand Prix Finals in Breckenridge, Colo. -- the third of five qualifying events for the US men's snowboarding team. Vito, an Ohio native, made the finals but, as of now, his results are going to be wiped out.

"Right now, they're trying to erase the whole contest like it never happened. Everyone was there, everyone rode, everyone did the best to make the finals, so everyone put down a run. If you didn't make the finals, you didn't make the finals," Vito said, who added the FIS was still considering using the qualifying scores. Another possibility being considered is that the finals could be held next week at Mammoth Mountain in California -- on top of the two qualifiers already scheduled.

"It would be a lot," Vito said. "But it's better than erasing the whole thing."

Vito is currently in fourth in the snowboard halfpipe standings (the US can only bring four in that discipline). He sits ahead of Shaun White with only two (possibly three) finals remaining.

With less than a month until the Sochi Games, Vito explored a number of topics, including his relationship with White, possible security threats in Sochi, and his feelings on Russia's social policies that have dominated pre-Olympic headlines.

Vito, who has won X-Games medals and taken Grand Prix and Dew Tour titles, says he's already validated himself as a top-tier halfpipe snowboarder, and although he appreciates what White has done for snowboarding, Vito wants "some of that love, too."

"I'd love for people to think of me, too, when they think of snowboarding, but he's been dominant for so long, and I can't hate on him, I can't be envious of him," Vito said. "He's definitely earned what he's gotten."

At the same time, Vito is still going toe-to-toe with White to make the Olympic squad.

"We're cool, for sure," he says. "It's not like we stare each other down. We're cordial, we're friendly. We were probably closer in 2010 than we are now, but it's not like a hatred or a competitiveness that we have against each other," Vito said. "There's nothing you can ever say bad about that. It's not his fault he's so naturally talented and good."

Vito finished fifth at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, but the 5-foot-5 snowboarder likely is better known for his appearance on the hit show Dancing with the Stars. Vito said part of the reason he competed in the show -- while simultaneously training for the Olympics -- was to expose more people to the sport.

"Twenty-two million viewers. If we can get at least one percent of that, introduce them to snowboarding, that's a lot of people tuning in, maybe buying snowboarding gear, supporting our industry. … [Competing on the show] was a huge mental thing for me just because I'm doing a dance I don't have complete confidence in, in front of a live audience, spotlight, judges, 22 million people at home, wearing clothes you usually wear on Halloween," said Vito, who also is teaming with Delta (a US Ski and Snowboard Association sponsor) on a digital campaign where fans send personalized video messages to Olympic skiers and snowboarders at qualifying events, using the #Goldluck hashtag.

While Vito's goal is to return to the Olympics, he is fully aware of the underlying issues swirling around the impending Sochi Games.

In regards to the two recent bus attacks in Russia that killed 31 people and have IOC members scrambling to ensure there are no security breaches, Vito said he's confident in the USOC's ability to protect athletes.

"They are gonna do a great job of thinking of every possible scenario and covering all the bases. They've been doing the Olympics for how many years now? Especially after Munich and that tragedy, a lot of the checkmarks are covered," he said. "It's a little bit nerve-wracking for my family, who might not have the same security that the athletes have. ... There's obviously always going to be a risk -- it might be a little more than being in Breckenridge, Colo. -- but I'm just gonna be proud to represent my country there."

Vito said he's also aware of Russia's anti-gay propaganda law, which has drawn a firestorm of criticism from various athletes and possible visitors. While he expects a few demonstrations and says he "might not agree with their laws," Vito insists that his goal is to unite the competing countries through sport and flip the negative attention.

"There's a lot of crazy things that seem to take the headlines over the positives, and it's sad to see, but when the Olympics come around, I hope that we can change those headlines for the better."

 
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