By LARRY VAUGHT
Kelsey LaCroix thought about what it would be like to participate in the Olympics when she was a young gymnast.
She assumed any chance to participating in the Olympics ended when she made the decision to stick with cheerleading over gymnastics at age 11.
That decision worked out well, though, as she recently helped Kentucky win a third straight national cheer title. But now she’s going to the Olympics — along with other member of UK’s national cheerleading team.
They will participate in an exhibition cheer competition at the Olympics in South Korea next month. Teams from Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Norway, Australia and Canada will also be there as part of a push to hopefully one day make cheerleading an Olympic sport.
“That’s some of the top cheerleading powers around the world,” UK cheer coach Jomo Thompson said. “Cheerleading is exploding everywhere. To be chosen from so many great college teams to represent the United States and have that UK on our chest is just awesome.”
Kentucky will have 10 male cheerleaders, eight female cheerleaders, one athletics trainer and Thompson in South Korea.
“Nationals is the big thing for us and we focused on that for son long,” LaCroix, a senior from Illinois, said. “The Olympics is a chance to celebrate what we have done and help make cheerleading even bigger. It’s kind of like the icing on the cake.”
Kentucky had been chosen to represent the United States before it won its 23rd national title. However, LaCroix said the Olympic invitation did add a little pressure at nationals.
“We wanted to win nationals first to prove to everyone that us getting the opportunity to go to the Olympics was legitimate and was a big deal for us,” she said. “It definitely increased the pressure on us. What if we had not won nationals? Some might have thought we didn’t deserve to go to the Olympics. But we did win and I think that shows we are very deserving to represent the United States.”
LaCroix has no idea what the international competition will be like. A select Team USA — UK cheerleader Whitney Agee and Dallas Pringle made this year’s team — competes in the World Championships each spring but that doesn’t tell LaCroix how good the other countries might be.
“In the past they have been good,” the UK senior said. “We are going to give our best performance to represent USA. We are going to incorporate a few more skills and things into our routine. It won’t be harder, just different.”
The cheer team took a few days off after nationals to give their “bodies a break” from the intense practices they had leading into the national championships. They will be in South Korea from Feb. 18-25. The Olympics start Feb. 10 and end Feb. 25.
“We will not be there for the opening ceremony, but from what we know we will be staying in the Olympic Village,” LaCroix said. “We will be there for the closing ceremony and hope we get to participate in that. But we don’t have a lot of details.
“I know it would be really cool to meet some of the athletes and be around them and in the same venue. It’s just an honor to be going. I think it will be an amazing experience.”
Her parents are just as excited that she has the opportunity be part of the Olympics.
“The Olympics are always in some crazy place that is far away that is really expensive,” LaCroix said. “I hoped one day in the future I would get to go, but I never dreamed of this. My parents know they will keep us in safe and nice places.”
There’s also one other personal reason this means so much to LaCroix.
“My grandpa was in the Korean War. My dad is really excited about that,” LaCroix said. “It’s going to be cool following in my grandpa’s footsteps. That just makes all this even more meaningful for me.”