Cheerleader's teammates 'did all they could'

Two cheerleaders who physically supported Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Lai Qing Xiang as he attempted a "back handspring" that ultimately proved fatal have told a court they did all they could to help him with the move.

The tragedy has raised questions on safety measures in the activity of cheerleading.

Testifying on Day 2 of a coroner's inquiry into the 18- year-old's death, Mr Vincent Lam Yu Xuan and Mr Eugene Eng Ee Ren each said they did their best during the August 2013 practice session with the school's cheerleading team, Magnum Force.

As "spotters", their role was to support Qing Xiang's lower back and thighs from either side as he tried the move.

The move was meant to involve falling backwards onto a crash mat and landing on the hands, before pushing upwards to land back on the feet.

But Qing Xiang, who weighed 100kg and stood 1.77m tall, failed to jump high enough for the handspring.

He landed awkwardly on his back and head, suffered spinal injuries and later went into a coma. The chemical and biomolecular engineering student died on Sept 12 last year from various complications.

Mr Lam, 19, alerted the team coach and later helped to carry their stricken teammate away from the area, while Mr Eng, 20, called for an ambulance.

On Tuesday, for more than four hours, State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid and three sets of lawyers - representing the teen's family, insurer and school - took turns to grill the two young men on what transpired that day.

Issues raised focused on their role in handling Qing Xiang's safety and included how they might have reacted had they known he had suffered spinal injuries.

Lawyer Mirza Namazie, representing Qing Xiang's next of kin, put it to Mr Lam: "You and Eugene didn't do a good job as spotters when Qing Xiang made the jump. His hands weren't together, he didn't jump high enough and you didn't support his back."

But Mr Lam, who weighs 76kg, disagreed, adding that their role as spotters was not to break a fall, but help Qing Xiang perform the handspring.

He said: "I felt we did all we could."

When asked the same question, Mr Eng, who weighs 67kg, said: "At that point in time, the best a spotter can do is try to make the impact as minimal as possible."

Both maintained that having two spotters in place for safety was adequate. But they conceded that cheerleading was a dangerous sport.

The inquiry, which coach Andrew Ong Hoon Haw also testified at two weeks ago, finished on Tuesday.

The State Coroner will deliver his findings on April 15.

pohian@sph.com.sg


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