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by Sandy Cohen
AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP)—It’s become a proud athletic tradition: Winning “Dancing With the Stars.”

When Hines Ward took home the mirrorball trophy on the hit show May 24, he joined its winningest group of alumni: Athletes. Professional athletes have taken the “Dancing” title six times in the past 12 seasons.

Since the show premiered stateside in 2005, three Olympians, two football stars and one race-car driver have been named “Dancing” champs.

POSTING ANOTHER 10—Hines Ward and his partner Kym Johnson compete during the celebrity dance competition “Dancing with the Stars,” in Los Angeles on May 16. (AP Photo/ABC, Adam Taylor)

“It’s special,” the 35-year-old said, glittery trophy in hand. “With football, it takes all 53 guys. With this mirrorball, it was just Kym and I together in the studio putting in the hours. I’m just glad I didn’t let her down.”

Ward consistently posted high scores throughout the 10-week competition, and judges praised his showmanship and dedication.

“We’ve had some great footballers on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ but I don’t think any compare with Hines Ward,” head judge Len Goodman said during the season finale.

The couple earned five perfect scores for their final six dances.

Besides Ward, the other athletic “Dancing” champs are NFL star Emmitt Smith, speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, Indy Car driver Helio Castroneves, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and gymnast Shawn Johnson. Football stars Jason Taylor, Warren Sapp and Jerry Rice were runners-up on the show, as was Olympic skater Evan Lysacek.

Professional athletes actively use their bodies for their work, so they have the mental discipline and physical fitness to train and adapt to the challenges of competitive dancing. They’re also more likely than other candidates to avoid over-training, said casting director Deena Katz.

The professional dancers on “Dancing With the Stars” are “world-class athletes,” said “Sport Science” host John Brenkus, so it follows that their fellow professional athletes might be able to keep up.

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