BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Pole dancers hoist themselves high, twist their bodies and do the splits upside down as they vie to be the best.
But the women, competing in the world pole fitness and sports championships in Romania's capital, Bucharest, face a challenge even before they climb onto the pole: persuading people that this is a tough sport that should be an event at the Olympic Games, and not an erotic number staged in men's clubs.
The Alliance of Parents from Romania called the Romanian national finals, where youngsters compete, "a step toward infantile prostitution," and more than 100 non-governmental groups signed a petition.
Police were called during the Sept. 16 world championships. They left after speaking to one of the organizers and no action was taken, organizer Cristina Fit told The Associated Press Wednesday.
"It's a new sport and often due to prejudice, people are reluctant or they don't know much about it," she said.
Fit hopes that pole dancing will become an Olympic sport. "We wanted to show it is sport. It has developed a lot from where it started, from the clubs in the 1960s."
Contestants from 12 countries, including China, Russia, Britain, Italy and Romania took part in the women's final held at the Children's Palace in southern Bucharest.
There were also men's and doubles finals. Contestants were judged on their costumes, the tricks they performed and entertainment value. Each routine lasts between 3½ and 5 minutes and is "a combination of gymnastics, acrobatics and rhythmic gymnastics," Fit said.
Natalia Tatarintseva of Ukraine took the women's title, while Ke Hong of China won the men's event. The doubles prize went to Yvette Dusol and Jade Tinkler of Britain.
"It is vertical gymnastics; the splits are done from a vertical position. I am sorry that people ... see it as a mere pole dance," Fit said.