No Pseudosport has more zealous defenders. Parents talk about how acrobatic their daughters must be to perform their back-tuck basket tosses, how much strength is required to pull off a pyramid and how fiercely committed cheerleaders are to their teams. Cheerleaders could be smashing pole vault records behind the bench for all I care—they would still be operating in the shadow of an actual athletic contest. Consider, too, that as you move up the cheer-leading pyramid—from the college to the professional ranks—all of those high-concept acrobatics are tossed in favor of dance moves and naughty roller skate routines. Cheerleaders may call themselves teams, but they are essentially a sideshow and, in some cases, a peep show.
Synchronized swimming is an all-too-easy target. It's showy, with Chucky-doll smiles and Crystal Barbie getups. But the physical prowess required in this sport takes a distance runner's endurance and a speed swimmer's strength. Throw in the control needed to suspend breathing for up to a minute and synchro is one of the toughest sports around. In order to perfect the lifts, twists and twirls required in a five-minute routine, elite athletes work together up to eight hours a day, six days a week. Sure, some of synchro's superficial elements need to move beyond the Million Dollar Mermaid era, but this is a sport with substance—even grit—beneath the surface.