*For Japan’s Mai Sato, watching all those gold medals being handed out in Vancouver is a bittersweet experience.

Sato knows the demands of being the best. In her world, blisters are the rule, bruises a way of life. And the training — five hours a day, five days a week.

The world champion in her sport, Sato is as athletic, dedicated and competitive as the Olympians representing their nations. And she thinks it’s high time her discipline, too, got some real recognition.

Still, pole dancing? In the Olympics?

Absolutely, say thousands of pole dancers and the rapidly growing number of international and national federations transforming what was once the exclusive property of strip clubs and cheap bars into a respectable — and highly athletic — event.

“I could definitely see pole dancing in the Olympics,” said Sato, who, a dancer since the age of three, out-twirled a bevy of athletes from 11 countries at the second International Pole Dancing Fitness Championships in Tokyo two months ago. “I would love to win a gold medal.”

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