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We've Got Olympic Spirit, Yes We Do; How 'Bout You?

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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.

The beach volleyball cheerleaders are more like 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 were treated to more traditional cheerleaders doing routines you'd find at most high school basketball games.

Waving pom-poms and doing flips in between dances was the cheer squad from Crimson Heat, an English cheer team invited by the London organizing committee to cheer on volleyball. Not any particular tram, just volleyball — at the club's own expense.

They are part of a sensory assault surely meant to counteract the normally drab 75-year-old venue, the Earls Court Exhibition Center, which is then sort of place in America that would be called the War Memorial Coliseum and have hosted a hockey team that eventually moved to the Sun Belt. The International Olympic Committee tests medal winners, but this was a venue on steroids. In between every point, the PA pumped in a song promising to blow my speakers up or light it up like it's dynamite.

Combine that with crowd full of, on this afternoon, feverish Bulgarian and Polish volleyball fans and one's senses were overcome by the noise, not the cheerleaders, clad though they were in silver-and-fuchsia spandex suits. Polish fan Justine Lipa liked the cheerleaders just fine, but really had no need for them.

"We are our own cheerleaders," she said, laughing.

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, it's veterans of U.S. college play.

"We grew up in the college setting where each team — the band had cheerleaders," she says. "Cheerleaders had cheerleaders. So to see cheerleaders at a women's volleyball game would just be normal to us."

In fact, Taurasi noted, there is precedent for punishing sports that don't use cheerleaders.

"I played five years in Russia, and teams that didn't have cheerleaders would get fined," she says.

It's not come to that yet. Gary Ayckbourn, the manger of the team at the volleyball arena, noted his cheerleaders were sleeping in a sports hall camping out, with two mums 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.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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