Gymnastics is a sport involving the performance of exercises requiring physical strength, flexibility, agility, coordination, and balance. Internationally, all of the gymnastic sports are governed by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) with each country having its own national governing body affiliated to FIG.
Competitive Artistic gymnastics is the best known of the gymnastic sports. It typically involves the women’s events of uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise, and vault. Men’s events are floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar. Gymnastics evolved from exercises used by the ancient Greeks, that included skills for mounting and dismounting a horse, and from circus performance skills.
Other gymnastic sports include rhythmic gymnastics, the various trampoline sports, aerobic and acrobatic gymnastics. Participants can include children as young as two years old doing kinder-gym and children’s gymnastics, recreational gymnasts of ages 5 and up, competitive gymnasts at varying levels of skill, and world class athletes.
The History of Gymnastics
Exercises of the ancient Greeks began with athletic feats performed by each individual according to his own notion. The youth were encouraged to combine amusement with exercise. In time, this kind of exercise was incorporated into a system that figured prominently in the state regulations for education. In fact, the period for exercise or gymnastics was equal to the time spent on art and music combined.
All Greek cities had a gymnasium, a courtyard for jumping, running, and wrestling. The term includes stretching exercises and warm-up preparing to athlets (from the Greek athlete ἆθλος âthlos, which means “struggle”, “fight”). These tests were a summary of military exercises. As the Roman Empire ascended, the Greek gymnastics gave way to gymnastics whose purpose was military training. The Romans, for example, introduced the wooden horse.
In 393 AD the Emperor Theodosius abolished the Olympic Games, which by then had become corrupt and gymnastics, along with other sports, declined. For centuries, gymnastics was all but forgotten.
In the year 1569, Girolamo Mercuriale from Forlì (Italy) wrote Le Arte Gymnastica, that brought together his study of the attitudes of the ancients toward diet, exercise and hygiene, and the use of natural methods for the cure of disease. De Arte Gymnastica also explained the principles of physical therapy and is considered the first book on sports medicine.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Germany, three pioneer physical educators – Johann Friedrich Guts Muths (1759–1839) and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778–1852) – created exercises for boys and young men on apparatus they had designed that ultimately led to what is considered modern gymnastics.
Don Francisco Amorós y Ondeano, marquis de Sotelo, was born on February 19, 1770 in Valence and died on August 8, 1848 in Paris. He was a Spanish colonel, and the first person to introduce educative gymnastic in France. In particular, Jahn crafted early models of the horizontal bar, the parallel bars (from a horizontal ladder with the rungs removed), and the vaulting horse.
The Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG) was founded in Liege in 1881. By the end of the nineteenth century, men’s gymnastics competition was popular enough to be included in the first “modern” Olympic Games in 1896. From then on until the early 1950s, both national and international competitions involved a changing variety of exercises gathered under the rubric, gymnastics, that would seem strange to today’s audiences and that included for example, synchronised team floor callisthenics, rope climbing, high jumping, running, horizontal ladder.
During the 1920s, women organised and participated in gymnastics events. The first women’s Olympic competition was primitive, for it involved only synchronised callisthenics and was held at the 1928 Games, in Amsterdam.
By 1954, Olympic Games apparatus and events for both men and women had been standardised in modern format, and uniform grading structures (including a point system from 1 to 15) had been agreed upon. At this time, Soviet gymnasts astounded the world with highly disciplined and difficult performances, setting a precedent that continues. The new medium of television helped publicise and initiate a modern age of gymnastics. Both men’s and women’s gymnastics now attract considerable international interest, and excellent gymnasts can be found on every continent.
Nadia Comăneci received the first perfect score, at the 1976 Summer Olympics held in Montreal, Canada. She was coached in Romania by the Romanian coach, (Hungarian ethnicity), Béla Károlyi. Comaneci scored four of her perfect tens on the uneven bars, two on the balance beam and one in the floor exercise. Even with Nadia’s perfect scores, the Romanians lost the gold medal to the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Comaneci became an Olympic icon.
In 2006, a new points system for Artistic gymnastics was put into play. With an A Score (or D score) being the difficulty score, which as of 2009 is based on the top 8 high scoring elements in a routine (excluding Vault). The B Score (or E Score), is the score for execution, and is given for how well the skills are performed.
Artistic gymnastics is usually divided into Men’s and Women’s Gymnastics. Typically men compete on six events: Floor Exercise, Pommel Horse, Still Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, and High Bar, while women compete on four: Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam, and Floor Exercise.
In some countries, women at one time competed on the rings, high bar, and parallel bars (for example, in the 1950s in the USSR). Though routines performed on each event may be short, they are physically exhausting and push the gymnast’s strength, flexibility, endurance and awareness to the limit.
In 2006, FIG introduced a new points system for Artistic gymnastics in which scores are no longer limited to 10 points. The system is used in the US for elite level competition. Unlike the old code of points, there are two separate scores. An execution score and a difficulty score. In the previous system, the “execution score” was the only score. It was and still is out of 10.00. During the gymnast’s performance, the judges deduct from this score only. A fall, on or off the event, is a 1.00 deduction, in elite level gymnastics.
The introduction of the difficulty score is a significant change. The gymnast’s difficulty score is based on what elements they perform and is subject to change if they do not perform or complete all the skills, or they do not connect a skill meant to be connected to another. Connection bonuses are the most common deduction from a difficulty score, as it can be difficult to connect multiple flight elements. It is very hard to connect skills if the first skill is not performed correctly. The new code of points allows the gymnasts to gain higher scores based on the difficulty of the skills they perform as well as their execution.
Only women compete in rhythmic gymnastics although there is a new version of this discipline for men being pioneered in Japan, see Men’s rhythmic gymnastics. This is a sport that combines elements of ballet, gymnastics,dance, and apparatus manipulation. The sport involves the performance of five separate routines with the use of five apparatus—ball, ribbon, hoop, clubs, rope—on a floor area, with a much greater emphasis on the aesthetic rather than the acrobatic. There are also group routines consisting of 5 gymnasts and 5 apparatuses of their choice.
Rhythmic routines are scored out of a possible 30 points; the score for artistry (choreography and music) is averaged with the score for difficulty of the moves and then added to the score for execution.
International competitions are split between Juniors, under sixteen by their year of birth; and Seniors, for women sixteen and over again by their year of birth. Gymnasts in Russia and Europe typically start training at a very young age and those at their peak are typically in their late teens (15–19) or early twenties. The largest events in the sport are the Olympic Games, World Championships, and Grand-Prix Tournaments.
Trampoline and tumbling consist of four events, individual, synchronised and double mini trampoline and tumbling (also known as power tumbling). Since 2000, individual trampoline has been included in the Olympic Games. Individual routines in trampoline involve a build-up phase during which the gymnast jumps repeatedly to achieve height, followed by a sequence of ten leaps without pauses during which the gymnast performs a sequence of aerial skills.
Routines are marked out of a maximum score of 10 points. Additional points (with no maximum at the highest levels of competition) can be earned depending on the difficulty of the moves and the length of time taken to complete the ten skills which is an indication of the average height of the jumps.
In high level competitions, there are two preliminary routines, one which has only two moves scored for difficulty and one where the athlete is free to perform any routine. This is followed by a final routine which is optional. Some competitions restart the score from zero for the finals, other add the final score to the preliminary results.
Synchronised trampoline is similar except that both competitors must perform the routine together and marks are awarded for synchronicity as well as the form and difficulty of the moves. Double mini trampoline involves a smaller trampoline with a run-up, two moves are performed for preliminaries and two more for finals. Moves cannot be repeated and the scores are marked in a similar manner to individual trampoline. In tumbling, athletes perform an explosive series of flips and twists down a sprung tumbling track. Scoring is similar to the trampoline competition.