'No one says cheerleading is tough...until they do it'

'No one says cheerleading is tough...until they do it'
Cheerleading squad Legacy All-Stars during a training session at *Scape in Orchard Road. It is not unusual for teams to put in up to 12 hours of training, seven days a week, in the months leading up to the national cheerleading competition held each March. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

With its pompoms, chants and colourful costumes, cheerleading is not usually associated with physical endurance.

But when a student died earlier this month after performing a backflip, it was a tragic reminder of the dangers that this seemingly risk-free pastime can bring.

In the wake of 19-year-old Lai Qing Xiang's death, Ngee Ann Polytechnic ordered its cheer squad to suspend training indefinitely.

It was a decision that has left the team, called Magnum Force, at one of the lowest points in its 25-year history.

At its peak, it was Singapore's top squad, winning the champion trophy at the national cheerleading contest for five straight years.

And its story provides a snapshot of the intense competition and athleticism that characterise cheerleading in Singapore.

Former coach Lenny Foo told The Straits Times how Magnum Force reached its zenith in the early to mid-2000s.

At competitions, the team was performing stunts that no other squads could match at the time.

"When other teams were doing back tucks in midair, we were already doing layouts," said Mr Foo, who coached Magnum Force for seven years from 2001.

Performing a tuck is no mean feat, with jumpers bending their knees and drawing them to their chest as they carry out the backflip.

But a layout is even more difficult as the body must be fully extended and the legs unbent.

The training was also physically demanding.

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