Cheerleading: UK team go for third world cheerleading title in a row

Unity Allstars Black have won back-to-back titles at the Cheerleading Worlds, the sport's biggest competition.

This weekend the south London-based team begin their quest for the "three-peat" at the event in Florida.

For those not in the know, that's cheer-speak for winning three times in a row.

While for some the stereotype of cheerleading as halftime entertainment during American sports remains, but it's also a competitive sport in its own right.

And in the UK it keeps growing.

At tournaments teams square off, trying to impress judges with high-intensity routines involving acrobatics, dance and tumbling.

"My favourite part about cheer is the energy," says Caitlin Pretious, one of the athletes in team Black.

"I'm a very energetic person and finding a sport to channel that is quite tricky. Cheerleading has been a blessing."

Cheerleading is a performance sport - teams wear glittery uniforms and make up, and are scored on showmanship.

But Caitlin doesn't think that means it deserves any less respect.

"Just because we're wearing lots of makeup and sparkles doesn't make it any less athletic than something like gymnastics or acrobatics.

"People are literally being thrown above your head and you're catching them, it's not easy to do. We just do it very well and make it look easy."

'A lot of boys like to do cheer'

Matthew Delday is also on the team, and has been going to Worlds since 2011.

"It takes a lot to be at a high level," he says.

"It's very, very strenuous cardio, there's lots of muscle work."

He says some people think cheer's just for girls, but it actually began in the USA as an all-male activity.

"There are a lot of boys that do cheer… because it's quite an athletic sport," says Matthew.

"A lot of boys like to show off. They like to throw people around, they like to lift heavy weights."

A love of cheerleading isn't just shared by Matthew, Caitlin and their team-mates.

Joey Gamper Cuthbert, chair of the board at SportCheer England, tells Newsbeat that competitive cheerleading has been growing in the UK for over 30 years.

"There are now an estimated 89,000 athletes in the UK, with many teams running bespoke gym facilities as full-time businesses and several with internationally award-winning programmes," he added.

"In July 2021 cheerleading was voted in by the IOC as a full Olympic Member Sport, so I can only see its popularity increasing as we look towards inclusion in the Games."

'A little bit Hannah Montana'

But even at the highest levels, athletes aren't paid professionals - many have day jobs.

Matt describes himself as "a little bit Hannah Montana" - the Disney Channel character with a double-life made famous by Miley Cyrus.

"I work in the corporate world," he says. "So I come in a suit and tie and then I get changed.

"This is like a nice little break."

To qualify for a place at Worlds teams must finish in the top three of their country's league.

Once they arrive in Florida, athletes compete in semi-finals and finals.

Teams compete at levels 1-7 and must be level 5 or above at Worlds. The stunts allowed at each level get gradually more advanced.

Matthew says his most difficult stunt is "a round-off rewind, which is where the girl tumbles towards you".

"You then grab them and flip them upside down and catch them above your head."

And for Caitlin?

"A kick triple. You are thrown in the air, and you kick with your right leg, and then you do three spins."

"The idea of it, yeah, it's absolutely terrifying. But when you're actually in there, it's not as terrifying as it seems.

"Everything you do, you don't do without technique behind you.

"It's a sport, you work your way up."

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