Archive for August 2012

Cheerleading and the Olympics

August 6, 2012

With the 2012 Summer Olympics in full swing, now seems like a perfect time to discuss the topic of whether or not cheerleading should become an Olympic event.  I can tell you that when I cheered (back in the 90’s), I was absolutely certain not only the cheerleading SHOULD be in the Olympics, but that it WOULD be in the Olympics in a couple of games.  History has proven me wrong on the second count.  As for the first, that is still very much up for debate.

Regardless, the first issue I’d like to consider is whether or not cheerleading would be good for the Olympics.  Assuming those of you reading this article are cheerleading enthusiasts, like me, you’re probably going to be surprised by my response.  No, I don’t think adding cheerleading to the Summer Olympics would do much to improve the Olympic games.

My saying this is in no way meant to be a put down of cheerleading.  If you follow this blog, you must realize that I love cheerleading.  I treat it with as much (or more) respect as anyone I know.  However, there are a lot of competitions/sports that I respect that I don’t necessarily think make a nice, neat fit in the Olympics.

Olympic events are best when they are very inclusive of a large number of participating countries.  Track and field events are the quintessential Summer Olympic sport.  Every country in the world has the resources to field a track and field team.  Every person on the planet can run.  In that, this year, the world witnessed its first double leg amputee compete in track and field against able-bodied athletes.  Talk about inclusive!  Furthermore, only in track and field can you find a country has economically disadvantaged as Ethiopia able to dominate certain events, year after year.  Certainly, the wealthier countries still have an advantage in terms of population, training techniques, coaching and equipment, but even with that, most of the world has a chance to be competitive.
Of course that isn’t the case in every Olympic sport.  Ethiopia will probably never field a competitive Olympic gymnastics team.  You either need a wealthy population to train privately, like in the USA, or you need a well-establish, government sponsored training program, like in China and Russia.

As for cheerleading, in spite of the rapid increases in international participation, competitive cheerleading is still too highly concentrated in the USA to make for a successful competition at the Summer Olympics.  That isn’t to say there isn’t great cheerleading in other countries.  There is.  I’ve seen (and judged) teams from over a dozen countries, and have witnessed some exceptional athletes on the competition mat.  However, outside of the USA, what you just don’t see enough of are dedicated cheer gyms with the facilities to practice full-out performances of their routines.  Very few international cheer teams have an opportunity to practice on a full-size cheer floor (let alone a spring floor!) until they are at the warm up mat at a competition.  This puts these teams at a huge disadvantage in terms of practicing timing, spacing, showmanship, endurance etc.  Teams in the USA run their routines over and over, full-out, fine-tuning each step of each performer for every 8-count.  You can’t do that when you’re practicing on 2 strips of cheer floor and you have to practice 2 stunt groups at a time and never get to run your tumbling sequence full-out.  You can take the greatest diver in the world but if you never let them practice in the pool, they’re going to splash on every dive.  The same is true for international cheerleading.

This is not to say that this will forever be the case.  Once there is a greater competitive balance among international teams, that might be a great time to revisit the conversation.  But we just aren’t there yet, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with admitting that, and continuing to work at it until we’re there.

Additionally, I don’t think including cheerleading in the Olympics would necessarily be a good thing for cheerleading.  Frankly, I think the professional cheerleading event providers operating today already do a great job.  I don’t think the Olympics could put on nearly as strong of a cheerleading competition as Cheersport Nationals in Atlanta, Jamfest Nationals in Indianapolis, NCA Nationals in Dallas or UCA Nationals in Orlando.  And that isn’t even considering Worlds, which is already the premier international cheerleading event.

There’s a reason the Olympics doesn’t consistently include other very popular sports like baseball and golf.  Both of these sports are incredibly popular and played at a very high level, internationally.  But they also both have such tremendously established other competitions, that an Olympic tournament would be something of a let down.  Think about it.  Would the Yankees shut down during the baseball season so they could send Alex Rodriguez to the Olympics?  Of course not.  They would much rather focus on the World Series.  As for golf, I’m sure Tiger Woods would love to compete for an Olympic medal, but would he skip the Masters to do so?  Here’s another example.  Consider soccer, which is in the Olympics.  Doesn’t the world pay more attention to the World Cup than to the Olympic soccer event?  I think by far.

I could be mistaken.  I certainly think an Olympic title in any event is always a special thing.  But when there are already highly established championships in place, trying to fit an event into the Olympics might not really do much for that event.  One more example.  When people talk about Michael Jordan, what do they think about first, his 6 NBA championship (and multiple MVP’s), or his 2 Olympic gold medals?

This hasn’t been my best-written article because I’m writing about something (the Olympics) that I am anything but an expert in.  I would not be surprised at all to hear an argument from someone who would completely change my point of view.  But for now, the way I see it, cheerleading isn’t a very good fit for the Olympics.  Additionally, I don’t think the Olympics would do very much for cheerleading.

One final thought.  I could definitely see a spin-off of cheerleading eventually establishing itself as an Olympic event.  I think the emerging sport called Stunt could be a good candidate for the Olympics in the future.  If you haven’t heard of Stunt, I suggest doing some digging.  It’s a pretty cool activity that really boils competitive cheerleading down to the purely athletic side of the activity.

In the mean time, I think it might be neat to figure out ways to use traditional cheerleading during certain select Olympic events to add to the experience of the spectators.  The London games have tried to do that (s0rt of) by having “entertainers” that are similar to cheerleaders at volleyball, beach volley ball, basketball and I think handball.  I’m not sure that the execution has been the best, but I like where they’re going with it.  Cheerleading started out on the sidelines as a way to encourage the athletes on the field (or court) and to entertain the audience.  I would love to see that aspect of cheerleading highlighted at the Olympics more than see them trying to force a cheerleading competition before the world is quite ready for it.