NEW YORK (AP) – Double dutch, once a pastime of American teenage girls, has gone global.

It’s become such a hot jump-rope sport around the world that a team from Japan keeps winning an annual competition at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

Now, the New York-based National Double Dutch League is asking the International Olympic Committee to make it an official sport in future Games.

“In Beijing this year, some of what masqueraded as sports – you couldn’t compare that to what three, four, five, six people do in double dutch, to how coordinated they have to be, how synchronized,” said Jim Greene, an organizer of the Dec. 7 championship.

He added, “There’s athleticism! There’s acrobatics!”

Greene said he sent an e-mail to the committee several months ago but has received no response. The nonprofit league also has encouraged aficionados to ask elected officials to support the effort.

A call Saturday to the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, was not immediately returned.

Double dutch involves two people turning two ropes at the same time, in eggbeater fashion, while between one and five others perform acrobatic jumps, avoiding contact with the ropes.

The skill may go back to ancient Phoenician, Egyptian and Chinese ropemakers. They would wind hemp around their waists, with two strands attached to a wheel, then walk backward to spin the rope into shape. Runners supplying spinners with hemp whizzed around cluttered floors, jumping between twisting ropes.

Double dutch has been a fixture on New York streets since the 1600s, when Dutch settlers brought it from the Netherlands.

In modern times in the United States, the sport typically has been practiced by girls in inner-city schoolyards.

In 1973, a New York Police Department community affairs officer, David Walker, realized public schools had a dearth of intramural girls’ sports. He persuaded the Board of Education to make double dutch a competitive activity, culminating in city championships at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. They were held through the mid-1980s, when funding ran out.

Varsity double dutch will return to city schools next year.

In the early 1980s, an Italian sportswear company executive came upon the double dutch competition while at Lincoln Center to see a ballet. Entranced by the acrobatics, he decided to reintroduce the sport to Europe by taking an American demonstration team to Italy and Germany, Greene said.

Then Walker, who started the Apollo competition in 1991, took a New York team to Japan in 1996. The squad’s double dutch performances inspired a group of Japanese athletes to learn the sport.

Within six months, they showed up at the Harlem competition and won the first of 10 Japanese victories within 12 years.

Japan has even incorporated double dutch in university curricula.

“Double dutch is now about as popular in Germany, Japan and Canada as it is in the United States,” Greene said. “It’s no longer a black teenage girl sport. You’ve got white men, Japanese men and black men jumping.”

Competitions are held around the United States, Japan and Europe.

The Dec. 7 competition – the 17th Annual Double Dutch Holiday Classic at the Apollo – is dedicated to Walker, who died in July. He had retired from the NYPD as a detective sergeant.

His daughter, Lauren Walker, is continuing his work to promote double dutch.

Teams competing this year include athletes from France, Belgium, Japan, the Virgin Islands and the United States.

“It was just amazing to see the diversity, by gender and ethnic group – boys and girls, men and women, American and Japanese,” Greene said.

Competition – with levels ranging from fourth grade to adult – consists of three routines, with a panel of judges watching.

One routine involves how many times a jumper’s left foot hits the floor in two minutes; the record is more than 400. Another routine is a series of compulsory skills. The third is “fusion freestyle” accompanied by music – or “anything the mind thinks up and the body can do.”

The final round is for “Best in the Show” – won last year by Japan’s Masterpiece team.

Masterpiece will not defend its title this year because it did not qualify in Japanese elimination finals, according to Lauren Walker. But three other Japanese teams will compete at the Apollo.

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