Atlanta prep ties disputed back handspring record
Mikayla Clark, a junior at Westlake High School in Atlanta, joined a long line of aspiring cheerleaders and gymnasts at her school's homecoming game this past week as she attempted to set the official world record for most consecutive back handsprings.
And she nearly succeeded ... according to available video evidence.
The 16-year-old Clark totaled 44 consecutive back handsprings, a dizzying display along the length of Westlake's track, tying the current record for both forward and back handsprings. According to the school, the previous record was set at 36, and Clark's coach expects her official Guinness World Records certificate arrive to within the next week. But if the past few years offer any clues, Clark's certificate may not arrive so soon.
First, here's the video:
Per an e-mail exchange with a Guinness press official on Wednesday afternoon, Clark's record has yet to be verified. However, the company's Twitter account confirmed that 44 is already the official record.
The current mark may have been set by high schooler Cody Welch in 2012, though Guinness did not confirm.
@Zach_Dillard That's 44. Record is good for either forward or backward.— GuinnessWorldRecords (@GWRnews) October 23, 2013
Guinness World Records does not list the official consecutive back handspring record (or its timeline) on its website or in the 2014 edition hard copy of its book.
There's some strange history to the world's back handspring title of late, as news story after news story from around the country detail high school cheerleaders or former cheerleaders flipping in excessive amounts and claiming the crown.
In October 2012, Miranda Ferguson, a Texas high schooler, appeared on the Today Show with official Guinness representative Mike Janela to accept her official world record certificate -- the same one Mikayla Clark is expecting -- for a then-record 35 consecutive back handsprings. In the interview, Janela said the back handspring title is one of the more popular applications Guinness receives but that he expected the record to stand for "a long time." He said the previous official record holder before Ferguson held the title for a year and a half.
"Everyone says, 'I can do that. I'll go do that right now,'" Janela said of the mark. "But they never can."
The record stood for no more than a couple months, with 36 soon being recorded by Guinness as its highest mark ever.
That's where things get a little odd.
On Sept. 6, 2013, Ohio high school cheerleader Marie Klein made headlines after recording 40 consecutive back handsprings. The feat took her 75 yards to accomplish. According to The Daily Mail, a Guinness official was on-site and verified the record, even with Welch's 44 handsprings being documented 10 months prior. Stories on Mikayla Clark's new mark made no mention of Klein's (40) or Welch's (44) accomplishments -- instead, it referenced the previous 36 set in 2012.
Did Westlake High School simply mention an outdated record? It appears so. In an interview with a local Atlanta TV station, Clark said she came across the mark when she was browsing the Internet — one quick search for the back handspring record reveals multiple news stories referencing multiple world records over the past 12 months, an issue Guinness helps to perpetuate by declining to officially list the mark on its website or in its book.
The question now: Should 44 consecutive back handsprings even be the true official world record?
Jalyessa Walker, a former UTEP cheerleader and soldier, attempted to set the record in front of 20,000-plus witnesses at a UTEP-Rice football game's halftime on Nov. 25, 2012, and presumably succeeded. An AP story from the game claims she set the record at 49 and that video -- cameras followed Walker all the way down the field; this was a Division I college football halftime, remember? -- was set to be submitted to Guinness for review.
In fact, the crowd counting along with Walker's flipping makes it up to 53. One would assume it's rather difficult to fake something in front of that many people. Apparently, video evidence does not set a record in stone in and of itself, regardless of clarity. Walker's feat, whether it be 49 or 53, was never officially recognized.
The No. 53 may just hold up in the record books soon, though. According to the e-mail exchange with Guinness, an unnamed UK television program recently filmed another Texas woman setting the world record at 53 consecutive back handsprings. In order to protect the show, the organization has not publicized the results.
So will Mikayla Clark ever receive her certificate from Guinness? It's possible, but she certainly has plenty of competition vying for the handspring crown.
As for now, just know 44 is the number. At least until next week.