Get ready sports fans, pole dancers eye Olympics

For Japan’s Mai Sato, watching all those gold medals being

handed out in Vancouver is a bittersweet experience.

Sato knows the demands of being the best. In her world, blisters

are the rule, bruises a way of life. And the training – five hours

a day, five days a week.

The world champion in her sport, Sato is as athletic, dedicated

and competitive as the Olympians representing their nations. And

she thinks it’s high time her discipline, too, got some real

recognition.

Still, pole dancing? In the Olympics?

Absolutely, say thousands of pole dancers and the rapidly

growing number of international and national federations

transforming what was once the exclusive property of strip clubs

and cheap bars into a respectable – and highly athletic –

event.

“I could definitely see pole dancing in the Olympics,” said

Sato, who, a dancer since the age of three, out-twirled a bevy of

athletes from 11 countries at the second International Pole Dancing

Fitness Championships in Tokyo two months ago. “I would love to

win a gold medal.”

It’s admittedly a high bar.

Established sports such as squash and cricket have failed to

make the Olympic cut, baseball and softball were recently given the

ax, and the International Olympic Committee’s decision to end its

support of nonofficial, demonstration sports after the Summer Games

in 1992 has made gaining a foothold, the way judo and taekwondo

did, all that much harder.

Plus, pole dancing needs to first gain IOC recognition as a

sport – an uphill battle if ever there was one.

No matter, pole dance enthusiasts say.

Hong Kong-based Ania Przeplasko, the founder of the

International Pole Dancing Fitness Association, the sport’s

fledgling supervisory body, believes Olympic recognition is only a

matter of time and would be a victory for underappreciated sports

worldwide.

“There will be a day when the Olympics see pole dancing as a

sport,” she said. “The Olympic community needs to acknowledge the

number of people doing pole fitness now. We’re shooting for

2012.”

That’s pretty ambitious.

It’s already too late for any new sports to be added to the

London Games. But the IOC decision to end its support of exhibition

sports after Barcelona has not completely closed the door on

Olympic hopefuls looking for a way to showcase their skills –

Beijing did it with the martial art wushu.

Pole dance advocates note that more unlikely sports have gotten

the IOC’s nod.

Tug of war, for example, was one of the early Olympic medal

contests. Equestrian events are in the Olympics, but who owns a

horse? Curling, which virtually no one pays any attention to in

non-Olympic years, has become one of the Winter Games’ biggest

darlings. Though they are not in the games, the IOC recognizes such

obscure sporting endeavors as boules, powerboating, bandy and

floorball.

KT Coates, a leading pole dancer in Britain and director of

Vertical Dance, is leading the effort to make pole dancing a

“test” event in 2012 and foresees a more formal pitch in 2016,

when the Olympics go to Rio de Jeneiro.

“After a great deal of feedback from the pole dance community,

many of us have decided that it’s about time pole fitness is

recognized as a competitive sport, and what better way for

recognition than to be part of the 2012 Olympics held in London,”

Coates wrote in a petition she is readying for the London

organizers.

“It has the wow factor,” she told The Associated Press in an

e-mail.

So far, the petition has about 4,000 signatures. Coates is

shooting for 5,000.

Iina Laatikainen, one of Finland’s top pole teachers, likens

pole dancing to skateboarding and snowboarding, two sports that

have gotten serious mainstream attention without completely

abandoning their rebellious roots.

“I think getting in the Olympics would be great for the

sport,” she said. “I actually see a lot of similarities in what

pole dancing is now for women with what skateboarding used to be

for men back in the day. Pole dancing is definitely on its way to

becoming a mainstream sport.”

But some pole dancers worry the sensual side of pole dancing,

and its counterculture undertones, would be destroyed in an effort

to clean it up for the Olympics. After all, would it really be the

same without stilettos, a boozy audience and a red-tinted

spotlight? And how do you score for sexiness?

Others fear old-school pole dancers would be eaten alive by

gymnasts, who could easily make the conversion from other

apparatuses, circus performers or Chinese acrobats, who have a long

tradition of performing aerial tricks.

“I don’t need to see pole dancing in the Olympics,” said Wendy

Traskos, co-founder of the U.S. Pole Dance Federation, which will

be hosting its annual U.S. championships next month. “I don’t

think this is necessarily the path that we need to take, as a

sport.”

Traskos, a former competitive gymnast who lives in New York,

believes pole dancing needs to do more groundwork before it shoots

for the Olympics. In particular, scoring for competitions needs to

be standardized, she said, adding that the names of the techniques

vary among different clubs in different regions.

“I feel there are many small, tiny, steps that need to be taken

before this sport, or any sport, can get into the Olympics,” she

said. “We are on, like, tiny step 10 of 1,000.”

Nevertheless, she said pole dancers on the medal podium is not

as wild a dream as it might have seemed just five years ago.

“Now, when you talk about it you don’t hear ‘like a stripper’

anymore,” she said. “You hear things like, ‘Oh, my friend takes

classes for fitness’ or ‘Yes, I’ve seen it on Oprah.”’

On the Net:

http://www.verticaldance.com/poledancingintheolympics.htm