Gone are the days when cheerleading was just young ladies waving pom-poms in support of their team. Now, cheerleaders are determined athletes who train hard to execute stunts that often make an audience gasp.
The serious, sometimes even dangerous, fast-growing competitive sport emerged around the turn of the Millennium and cheerleading is now seeking to become an Olympic sport.
Three years ago it was granted provisional Olympic status by the International Olympic Committee, which means that this year it can apply to be part of the full Olympic sports program. The paperwork takes a while though and so while the sport won’t make it into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, it may be there in the 2024 Games in Paris or the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.
West Coast Fury Cheerleaders, program leader, Christina Dimopoulos said this is the ultimate team sport: “The combination of both strength and teamwork in a fun fit environment, we think it’s awesome.”
West Coast Fury Cheerleaders are located in the Perth northern suburb of Wangara. The club was established in 2015 and has around 300 participating members. Competitive teams – being the two higher level teams – train twice a week. The level tiers go from 1 to 6, and levels 4 and 6, train three times a week.
All the competitive teams learn a competitive routine. “We are really big on safety, so we really ensure that we teach technique in the correct way, so all our athletes are super safe. It is a dangerous sport, though we really like to push the boundary as far as we can, pushing the safety side of it,” Dimopoulos said.
The sport involves a bit of gymnastics, a kind of tumbling is involved and stunting, where they work in groups and learn how to throw each other in the air.
Now 16 years old, Madeleine Saunders began cheerleading three years ago and has been competing ever since. “I train for two hours every Monday and an hour and a half every Wednesday. There are seven competitions per year usually, in June, August, September and November,” she said.
Saunders, who is very sporty – having already played tennis and golf – was inspired to take up this sport after watching movies and videos of people who did All Star cheerleading.
“My main influence was watching Gabi Fuller’s youtube videos. I like to watch videos of her cheerleading experience, what her training is like, and her team at a competition,” Saunders said.
Gabi Fuller is a 21-year-old, competitive cheerleader, who cheers for Top Gun cheerleading in America.
A good level of fitness and endurance is required in cheerleading, as you need to have the right amount of strength and stamina to keep going for the full 2 minutes and 30 second duration of the routine.
“Before we train, we warm up for approximately fifteen minutes, and our warm-ups are made up from high-intensity interval training. This consists of running, strength and we finish with stretching exercises. Our training session then commences and we practice stunting, jumping and tumbling, which we are usually working on in our routine in preparation for our upcoming competitions,” she added.
Saunders said that she thought it was amazing that the world is finally recognising cheerleading as its own sport, as opposed to a group of high school students, cheering for their football or basketball team.
Dimopoulos explained that the International Cheerleading Union was adjusting the sport’s rules and guidelines to align with other sports in the Olympics. Changes include switching the often used midriff cut tops to full length tops across the sport, which Dimopoulos said “will be a massive change for us”.
She is hopeful that the sport will be included in the 2024 Olympics, adding: “This is an exciting, competitive sport, so why wouldn’t you want it in the Olympics.”
The recognition from the International Olympic Committee has meant that outsiders to the sport are taking notice of how cheerleading has grown. The sport has adapted with stunts that involve high risk, which means there are bound to be injuries involved. This, however, has not deterred the competitors who see the recognition as a chance to work harder.
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