This article appears in the January 2017 edition of Cheer.Dance.Lyfe magazine. To get a copy of the magazine click HERE.
On Tuesday, December 6th 2016 The cheer universe was changed forever. The announcement that Cheerleading has finally been validated and recognized as a true Olympic Sport finally was announced. This was a huge announcement for the world of cheerleading.
The International Cheer Union (ICU) was granted provisional International Olympic Committee recognition for a period of three years by the Executive Board. More importantly, if everything goes well, competitive cheerleading can now be included in the upcoming Olympic programs. No longer will you have to defend the sport we all love as a “real sport”.
Founded in 2004 and headquartered in the United States, the International Cheer Union began its journey to be recognized six years ago when it first applied to the International Olympic Committee. The ICU's mission is to positively advance cheerleading throughout the world. The organization has steadily built its membership and now has 110 National Cheer Federation members.
Via the Press Release of the announcement:
"The IOC's actions have created a monumental milestone for cheerleading. We are truly honored to receive this recognition by the Executive Board of the IOC," said Jeff Webb, President of the International Cheer Union. "This decision will greatly assist us as we strive to create opportunities for healthy participation and competition for millions of Cheer athletes worldwide."
Many questions quickly arose, as this decision caught many off guard. The initial US news reports failed miserably in properly reporting that competitive Cheer that had just been validated as a sport. The old perceptions of Cheerleading prevailed and the news media did not properly capture the essence of competitive cheer. The competitive cheer community quickly responded. You could feel the collective heads raise and the welling up in pride from the cheer community around the world. No one has to argue anymore, Cheer is now a sport.
Confusion and excitement quickly set in within the Cheerleading community as well. The many variations of competitive cheer began to ask questions. What happens now? How is this going to work? Is this going to change Worlds as we know it? How can I get involved to be an Olympic Champion one day?
I visited The Stingray Allstars in Marietta, Georgia to get some insight from some of the Youth and Junior teams who are now in the middle of their competition season. A few had heard of the huge announcement, most had not. The look on the faces of the athletes once they learned they could potentially be in the Olympic Games someday was priceless. Many dropped the names of the famous athletes of the recently completed 2016 Rio Summer games. The teams shared names like
Simone Biles, Ali Raisman the Final 5, Michael Phelps and other athletes were shared. Needless to say the Allstar Cheerleading gym was buzzing with excitement of the news.
The Stingray Allstars Red Rays with Torch from the 2012 London Olympic Games
Many in America and abroad are familiar with the Allstar format of Worlds and Summit. Olympic Cheer will be represented by the International Cheer Union. The ICU federation is based in America but will represent teams from all over the world.
As a father with two daughters who has defended the authenticity of this sport vehemently, I decided to find out how all this works in hopes to educate all involved. I was fortunate enough to speak with some incredible athletes that have already represented The US National Team.
Below is a question and answer from my interview with Patrick and Julia Miller who have represented the US National Team. The couple has represented our country over the past few years and have been instrumental in paving the way for US National athletes for years to come. I wanted to share couples experience in hopes to share as much of the potential Olympic cheer experience as possible.
Julia Miller- USA Cheer 2014-2016
Q: What was the cheerleading path that led you to compete on the US National Team ?
A: “ When I was younger I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years and always had a passion to compete. In college, I cheered at UCF. While cheering in college and attending events such as the NCA and UCA College nationals. I learned about the US National Team. I tried out and made the Co-Ed squad and was on The team from 2014-15-16.”
Q: “ What was it like to represent USA Cheer at the ICU Worlds?
A: “It was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. It was so amazing to be surrounded by such amazing talent from all over the world. Each of the teams work so hard and are so passionate about what they do.”
Q: Many people will know about the talent from the US National Team. What are some of the International teams we should keep our eye on?
A: “Great question! There are so many incredible teams from around the world. With the popularity of Cheer growing at an amazing pace, the teams are improving all the time. If you are a young athlete you should certainly be keeping you eye on Team Norway, Team Netherlands, Team UK and Team Canada. There are so many teams to name. The talent is absolutely amazing around the world.”
Q: What does the US National Team tryout process look like?
A: “The process has changed recently and you can find that information on the US National cheer website. Previously, tryouts were held the day after the UCA College Nationals. You have to be ready to go immediately. It is important to be a well-rounded athlete and strong in all facets of cheer. You only get one shot to try a skill in tryouts. You either hit it or you don’t. The coaches will ask you to complete a stunt or tumbling pass. If you can’t do it the first time, they move on to the next. You have to be poised and ready. You are competing against the best athletes in the nation from many different disciplines.”
Patrick Miller- USA Cheer 2010- 2016
Q: What was the cheerleading path that led you to compete on the US National Team?
A: “In high school, I began playing football, but started Cheerleading in the 10th grade. I went on to Cheer for the University of Kentucky for one year and then transferred to cheer at the University of Alabama for four years. I tried out for the US National team six years ago and fell in love with it, and have been doing it ever since.”
Q: You have been on The US National Team for six years. What would be you advice to up and coming Cheerleaders who have a dream to compete on the USA Cheer?
A: “The most important aspect of cheering for The US National team as Julia mentioned, is being a well-rounded athlete. While many may focus on being an exceptional tumbler or on stunting, it is very important to be exceptional in both. You have to be able to pick up things quickly as practice time is very limited. The competition is incredible and the emphasis on assembling the best routine in the world is imperative.”
Q: You mention limited practice time. Most reading this will be familiar with the Allstar gym practice structure. How exactly does that work? I imagine you have athletes represented from all over the United States. How does the US National team practice?
A: “Many of us are already practicing on a daily basis with our respective teams in college. We actually will share ideas in the team GroupMe. The coaches will send out concepts they are thinking about or asking us to perfect. The coaches spend months coordinating flights and practice facilities for the team. We will all share our ideas and work to perfect them multiple hours in the gym during the week. Once we get closer to the ICU Worlds, the entire team assembles two weeks before and works to perfect the routine. It is an extremely grueling and exhausting process, but that is what it takes to create one of the most competitive routines in the world.”
- What is an international team other than the US National team that has impressed you?
A: “All of the team's Julia mentioned earlier are amazing. The group that always impresses me is Team Chinese/Taipei. The coed routine they assembled that won them the Gold a few years back was absolutely mind blowing. I also love watching Team Thailand they continue to amaze the world with their incredible stunts and pyramids. I look forward to watching them year in and year out.”
2016 USA Cheer Coed Premier
As more information about this announcement emerges one thing is for sure. The announcement that Cheerleading is now recognized as an official Olympic sport has changed cheer forever. The announcement will raise the bar for every aspiring athlete who dares to dream big to be an Olympic champion. We can now close the book on the debate of the sport being valid. Although we are not naive enough to believe there will not be skeptics, we can now use our athleticism, work ethic, and execution to continue to prove the doubters wrong.