Take a short aerobics class, mix in some choreographed dance elements, a panel of judges, big smiles on all the competitors and what do you have? Quite possibly the next Olympic sport. Set to high-powered music, sportaerobics is an energetic blend of strength, flexibility and endurance that lasts between 100 seconds and 110 seconds. It's sometimes described as a competitive alternative to gymnastics. The first aerobics competition was held in 1983 in Los Angeles. Since then, the sport has grown to include an annual world championship, has been a feature at the world games since 1997 and, in 1996, was officially adopted as a new discipline of gymnastics by the governing body, the Federation Internationale Gymnastique. This means the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also recognised the sport as more than an aerobics class on stage, and positions it to be part of a future Olympic Games (although which one is anybody's guess). In July this year, more than 30 countries will convene in Los Angeles for the 16th World Sportaerobics Championships and the 8th World Youth Sportaerobics Championships. But if you think sportaerobics is only for young joints and ligaments, think again. There are five divisions in competitive sportaerobics - one to suit just about every body. For example, the Club Cup is for beginners. Here, competitors are judged on how well they can follow an instructor in a pre-choreographed routine. Next is the Youth Division, which is further subdivided into three age groups: 7-10, 11-13 and 14-17. Then, there's the Class II and Master's divisions, where participants have to be at least 35 years old. Finally, there are the Class I elite athletes. This group includes individuals, pairs and trios of men and women who are at least 18 years old. With so many categories, there's a chance for almost everyone to star. What do you have to do to become a sportaerobics champion? First, it's a judged sport, similar to gymnastics and figure skating. There are three criteria judges look for: technical merit, artistic merit and degree of difficulty. The technical part is the execution of the moves - that is, your balance, strength, flexibility and co-ordination. Having a lot of upper body strength is important to impress judges with such feats as one- arm and one-leg push-ups. Being able to kick your legs to the ceiling is also pretty much a given, and multiple jumps into the air with your legs in front of you tend to be crowd pleasers. Artistically - as in gymnastics and figure skating - it's important to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. In other words, it's what you look like that counts, and that includes keeping your weight down. Finally, the degree of difficulty speaks for itself. There are four general categories of elements rated on a scale from A (0.1) to F (0.6), with A elements being the easiest and F the most difficult. Each routine must include a certain number of difficult moves to meet the minimum standards for the category. Since the sport is high impact, the injury rate tends to be high. In a survey at one of the US national championships, only 17 out of 60 athletes reported being 'injury free'. The injured ones suffered from leg, ankle, shoulder, spine, neck, wrist, hand and elbow problems. The impact force of landing from being airborne is quite high compared with running or a regular aerobics class. Also, because the joints in the upper extremities (such as the hands, wrists and elbows) are relatively small and have less supportive tissue, they tend to take a beating compared with the lower extremities (ankles, feet and knees). Proper technique is vital in avoiding these injuries. At the time the IOC was giving its approval for sportaerobics to eventually become an Olympic sport, many gyms and clubs worldwide, including some in Hong Kong, were reducing the number and type of aerobics classes offered. The likes of spinning, yoga, tai chi and even step aerobics (a lower impact class) have taken their place. In light of this, it may be only the young who are ever rewarded with an Olympic medal for sportaerobics. Then again, it's rare that anyone over the age of 35 achieves Olympic glory.