Saturday, August 16, 2008

Olympic Cheerleading: Give me a C-H-I-N-A 

Posted by James at 10:50 AM ET

by Daphne Bramham
The Vancouver Sun
With less than 10 minutes to go before the most anticipated Monday matchup at this Olympic venue, cheerleaders run out on to the sand court with their long, dark hair flying behind them.

Welcome to beach volleyball!

Olympic Cheerleaders

In teeny, red, transparent skirts over teeny, red bikinis - and waving diaphanous red scarves - they start swirling around to the sounds of vaguely Moroccan melodies.

Curiously, with their little skirts, the cheerleaders had more clothes on than the competitors who had already completed their warm-ups.

Welcome to women's beach volleyball and the match between the Chinese - Wang Jie and Tian Jia - and Belgians Liesbeth Mouha and Liesbet van Breedam. When the dance routine ends, the cheerleaders form an honour guard as the officials are introduced. They are all men in below-the-knee boarder shorts, T-shirts and hats.

Olympic Cheerleaders

At the breaks, the bouncy, bare-footed cheerleaders are back - sans skirts - and groovin' along with the crowd, to old pop hits ranging from Ricky Martin to Michael Jackson and, of course, the Beach Boys.

China eventually won, but just barely.

Before the next match, a different group of cheerleaders in white bikinis trimmed in Olympic colours entertained at centre court.

Cheerleaders at an Olympic event is brand new this year. Never before has any sport had official cheerleaders. And it's not just at beach volleyball.

Beijing Olympic organizers picked 428 beautiful, young, long-haired women to perform at 17 different sports including archery, race walking, pentathlon, boxing and weightlifting.

In their ever-so-photogenic bikinis, they're a hit with the mainly male photographers and with the Chinese crowd. (Of course, in Asia cigarette companies have been known to hire sexy young women to hand out free cigarettes in malls as a way of promoting their product to young people.)

It's not entirely clear whether having cheerleaders is a one-off, an odd twist at this particular Games, because while the Chinese cheerleaders hang around for all of the competitions on a particular day at a particular venue, they'll have to compete for space at basketball.

There are two Chinese dance teams and a freestyle team designated for basketball. The Ukrainians also have a dance team that will perform at half time and at the breaks in play, while France sent both cheerleaders and a "dunk team."

And if the final does feature the highly favoured USA, the cheerleaders will have some stiff competition as well: America has its own cheerleaders.

"We want to make this international," Paul Goldman, the American sports presentation manager for the Olympic basketball gymnasium, said in a press release when the cheerleading matchups were announced.

You've got to wonder, what would Mao say? Of course, these days in Beijing, nobody cares about that.

Gallery of the Olympic Cheerleaders here.

Flashback: Cheerleaders at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens

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