One of the most talked about innovations at the Turin Olympics has been the introduction of cheerleaders. They have provoked strong reaction from the fans, some it of it good, and some of it critical. But as VOA's Steve Schy reports, like them or not, they are definitely getting noticed.
The official Olympic cheerleaders are a lot different than what you would see on the sidelines at basketball or American-style football games. Cheerleader choreographer Paola Bosio says about 500 girls tried out to become Olympic cheerleaders.
"At the end we chose 100 girls," Bosio explained. "We have six groups, three working in ice hockey, two at speed skating and one in the mountains. So this is the first time that there is cheerleading in the Olympic Games, and we thought it was a good way to entertain the spectators."
After being selected for the squad, the newly-minted cheerleaders practiced for four-and-one-half months. But during that time, about all they learned how to do was wave their orange and gold pom-poms, dance a few synchronized steps, and jump up and down to whatever music might be playing at the venue.
But fans disagree on whether the cheerleaders are entertaining or just an irritating distraction. After all, they do not actually cheer and they do not wear skimpy uniforms. The all-girl squad, which ranges in age from 15 to 26, is attired in bright orange and gold uniforms that cover them almost from shoulder to toe.
Jacopo Divonzo lives in Turin and says he enjoyed the cheerleaders performing at a hockey game.
"I think they made [did] a good job, they had no problem and I liked looking at them. It was a nice thing for me, yeah," he said.
Besides not cheering for any particular team at an event, the focus of the routines is different. It is not the loud and spirited gymnastic performance one might see at college and high school events in the United States, but is more dance-oriented.
Cheerleader Camilla of Turin is 20 years old and has studied dance since she was 10. Her background includes classical dance and ballet as well as modern dance and pop. This is her first time as a cheerleader and she says she is enjoying the new experience.
"There are no cheerleaders in Italy. We are the first. I like it very much," she said. "It is so [much] fun in front of a lot of people. It is a great experience. All the people are very happy, they like [it] very much."
Some fans expressed the opinion that the pom-pom waving and dancing was distracting because it took the focus off the athletic event they had come to see. But Kathy Moine of Los Angeles, California had a different interpretation, as well as an interesting theory about the cheerleader's costumes.
"I think that they are just supposed to be neutral and they are supposed to be the Olympic torches," she said. "Not for any country but just supporting everybody, happy to be in the Olympics."
If by definition, cheerleaders should cheer for one side and make a lot of noise, then the Olympic squad still has a lot to learn. But if they are just here to look good and liven up the atmosphere during time-outs, many would agree they have been a complete success.