AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now, there have already been a few surprises at this summer's Olympic Games and one of them has nothing to do with medals or the athletes vying for them. American sports of all stripes have long featured the flips, tosses, and yells associated with cheerleaders.
But the Olympics, too? Yes, the Olympics as NPR's Mike Pesca reports.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: When I say Citius, you say Altius. When I say Altius, you say Fortius - or don't, that's fine too. Traditional even, but these Olympics have conspicuously defied traditional notions by having cheerleaders in a few different styles at a few different venues. In basketball, dance teams perform between matches. In beach volleyball, highly choreographed teams delight attendees.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That was awesome. Amazing. Boom.
PESCA: The beach volleyball cheerleaders are more like the dancers in two-piece bathing suits which, it must be said, are actually a bit more conservative than those worn by the female players. In indoor volleyball, once known as volleyball, spectators retreated to the more traditional cheerleaders during routines you'd find that most high school basketball games.
CRIMSON HEAT: (Singing) We will, we will rock you...
PESCA: Waving pompoms and doing flips in between dances, was a cheer squad from Crimson Heat, an English cheer team invited by the London Organizing Committee to cheer on volleyball. Not any particular team, just a volleyball at the club's own expense. They're part of a sensory assault surely meant to counteract the normally drab 75-year-old venue: the Earls Court Exhibition Center, which is the sort of place in America that will be called them War Memorial Coliseum and have hosted a hockey team that eventually move to the Sun Belt.
The IOC tests medal winners but this was the venue on steroids. In between every point, the PA pumped in a song promising to blow my speakers up or a light it up like its dynamite.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, LIGHT IT UP LIKE ITS DYNAMITE)
TAIO CRUZ: (Singing) Light it up like its dynamite...
PESCA: Combine that with a crowd full of on this afternoon's feverish Bulgarian and Polish volleyball fans and one's senses were overcome by the noise, not the cheerleaders, clad though they were is silver and fuchsia spandex suits.
PESCA: Polish fan Justine Lipa liked the cheerleaders just fine but really had no need for them.
JUSTINE LIPA: Yeah, exactly and we are own cheerleaders so...
PESCA: Plus, they can really cheer for a team. They can just generally dance around.
LIPA: Yeah, no way. You know, they just tried to activate the crowd. And I think the Polish fans are active enough, singing and booing, and they're doing all kinds of stuff.
PESCA: There might actually be a U.S. advantage in all of this. As U.S. basketball star Diana Taurasi says if anyone will be comfortable with cheerleaders its veterans of American college play.
DIANA TAURASI: I mean, we grew up in a college setting where each team, the band had cheerleaders, cheerleaders had cheerleaders. So to see cheerleaders at a women's volleyball game would just be normal to us.
PESCA: In fact, Taurasi noted, there's precedent for punishing sports which don't use cheerleaders.
TAURASI: I played five years in Russia and teams that didn't have cheerleaders would get fined.
PESCA: It's not come to that yet. Gary Ayckbourn, the manager of the team at the volleyball arena, noted his cheerleaders were sleeping in a sports hall, camping out with two moms cooking for the whole team. His Crimson Fire squad has been received enthusiastically by a once-skeptical volleyball association, he says. But there is still no talk of payment. It is one area where the amateur ideal still reigns.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, London.