Some people consider gymnastics to be the purest of all sports or athletic activities. The
human body can perform movements that are exquisite to behold. For this reason, gymnastics
is visually exciting. Yet many casual viewers and enthusiasts alike do not realize
how much dedication, skill and training are required on the part of gymnastic performers.
Gymnastics has grown in popularity in the United States, perhaps due to the good press
given to this sport in recent Olympic competitions. Currently, there are about 40,000
competing gymnasts in the United States.
HISTORY OF GYMNASTICS
Gymnastics has been popular since ancient Greece. However,“modern” gymnastics began only in the 1820s,
when Ludwig Jahn founded gymnasiums, called“Turnverein,” throughout Germany. Jahn also invented
equipment, including parallel bars, the horizontal bar,
rings and the horse. This equipment is still in use today.
The first gym club was built in America in
1850. The first college to train teachers in
gymnastics began in 1865. In 1888, the Amateur
Gymnastics Association was founded inEngland.Men’s gymnastics was one of the original seven sports included in the first modern
Olympic Games, held at Athens in 1896. Starting in 1928, women were included in the
competition. In 1950, the world championships were introduced. They have been held
regularly at four-year intervals ever since.
Gymnastics is similar to ballet in terms of the physical demands and personal sacrifice
required. Aspiring gymnasts typically start to train seriously when they are about eight
years old. Two organizations, the Junior Olympic program of the United Sates Gymnastic
Federation (USGF) and the Junior Olympic Gymnastic Program of the Amateur Athletic
Union (AAU), offer classes for young people
from nine to eighteen years of age.
Many high schools and colleges offer comprehensive
programs in gymnastics. At the high school
level, the National Federation of State High School
Associations (NFSHSA) oversees the rules and
regulations for both men and women engaged in
A final state high school championship is the culminating
year-end event held annually. Collegelevel
gymnastics is controlled by the National Collegiate
Athletic Association (NCAA).
Currently, Eastern European countries, particularly Romania and Russia, dominate the
international gymnastics scene. Children in these countries tend to start their training at
an earlier age than do American children. Also, the government directs the athletic programs.
These programs tend to combine the best elements of gymnastic training from
many different countries.
HOW GYMNASTICS IS PERFORMED
GYMNASTIC TERMS AND MOVES
The following terms illustrate the type of language gymnasts use to describe specific
moves. Just as baseball, golf, bowling and other sports have their own language, so doesgymnastics. On the next page are some important and frequently-heard terms in gymnastics:
Axis An imaginary line around which the body rotates.Arab spring A move in which the legs come together as the body
makes a one-quarter turn (similar to a cartwheel).Bridge position As the body is in a handstand position, the shoulders
move away from the hands while the feet reach toward
the floor, slightly apart. The knees are bent and the body
forms a wide back arch.Dislocate On the rings, the legs are thrown up and back as the
arms are spread out to the side. The body is arched as
the feet are swung back down to touch the floor.Felge On the parallel bars, the gymnast hangs upside down as
he/she turns backward and lets go, re-grasping the parallel
bars in the hang or front positions.Hecht jump A jump executed from the highest of two asymmetrical
bars in which the body is folded around the lower bar
and continues to circle until the legs point down at a 45-
degree angle. The body is then extended from the hips
as the gymnast jumps to the floor with legs straightened
and arms extended.Piked position The standard position for performing a variety of exercises
in which the knees are straight and the hips flexed
as far as possible.Tuck The body position where the back is rounded and the
chin is on the chest. The knees are also bent up to the
Straddle A body position where the legs are apart.Russian giant A movement done on the horizontal bar. This is also
called the inverted giant swing.Split right angle A move done on both the rings and parallel bars, alsoknown as the “straddle L” position.
TYPES OF GYMNASTICS
The two types of gymnastics most commonly seen in competition are artistic gymnastics
and rhythmic gymnastics. Artistic events are performed on equipment and on floormats. In the men’s division, there are six events: floor exercise, pommel horse, stillrings, vault, parallel bars and the horizontal bar. The women’s division includes four
events: floor exercise, uneven bars, vault and balance beams.
Rhythmic gymnastics is a mix of acrobatics, juggling and ballet. Gymnasts are required
to perform movements that show off their flexibility and dexterity. Many use balls, ropes,
hoops and ribbons as part of the performance. Technically called “gymnastique moderne,”
this form of gymnastics originated in France and is performed only by women.
WOMEN’S AND MEN’S GYMNASTIC SKILLSBelow is a sample of traditional women’s and men’s
gymnastic skills. Remember, though, that this is just
a sample of the many requirements for competition.
Women’s Olympic Vaulting
In competition, the vault exercise is divided into
two sections called first and second flight. First
flight, or the first half of a movement, is the point at
which judges carefully watch the take-off, including
the body lifting through the air until it reaches
the vault. In the second flight, moves from the vault to the dismount are stressed, including
balance, stretch of the body and general direction.
Men’s Floor Exercises
Judges base their opinions on how well a gymnast combines motions in a rhythmic way.
Skips, jumps, handsprings, and other movements must be combined in such a way as to
make it look as if the routine is one continuous movement covering the entire floor
space. Flexibility, balance, hold and strength, as well as creativity, are awarded points.
Over-long runs, low height and other flaws in execution will result in points being deductedfrom the final score.
Women’s Asymmetrical Bar
The routine done on the uneven bars must include constant motion. A gymnast is allowed
only two momentary rests to regain balance. Judging is based on the passage of
the body between the bars, the different hand grips on each bar, the suspension, and the
degree of difficulty of the movements in the routine.
Men’s Horizontal Bar
The key to doing well in competition is to include at least one
movement where both hands are taken off the bar. The bar
then is grabbed again. Other crucial movements include the
forward and backward giant swings, free hip circles and turns.
The gymnast must be in constant motion for this entire routine
to avoid losing points.
Women’s Balance Beam
The balance beam is sixteen and a half feet long and four inches wide. It tests a femaleathlete’s balance as she performs jumps leaps, turns, runs and walks across the entire
length of the beam. The entire routine lasts between 80 and 105 seconds. Three short
stops are allowed to regain balance. If the gymnast falls, she can start again within ten
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING
Equipment for gymnastics includes:Parallel bars Men’s horizontal bar
Women’s asymmetrical bar HorseWomen’s balance beam Static rings
Clothing for gymnastics is usually form-fitting and flexible, such as leotards and gym
suits. For major competitions, costumes are often worn.
GYMNASTICS NOTES AND NEWS
The popularity of gymnastics got a special boost in 1972, when Americans and Canadians
alike fell in love with Olga Korbut, the tiny Russian champion. Then, in 1976, when
Nadie Comenici scored a perfect 10 in the uneven parallel bars competition, even peoplewho didn’t know what parallel bars were knew perfection when they saw it. Follow
these two with the warm, cheering, friendly smile of Mary
Lou Retton in 1984 and you have a public that has come tolove women’s gymnastics.But there is interest in men’s gymnastics, too. The 1970s and
80s fitness craze in North America led to a heightened appreciation
of physical conditioning, strength and endurance. Few athletes
are better conditioned than gymnasts.
The stiff competition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics produced these results:Women’s Individual All-Around: Gold--Simona Amanar, Romania, Silver--Maria Olaru,Romania, Bronze--Xuan Liu, China. Women’s Floor Exercise: Gold--Elena
Zamolodtchikova, Russia, Silver--Svetlana Khorkina, Russia, Bronze--Simona Amanar,
Romania. Women’s Vault: Gold--Elena Zamolodtchikova, Russia, Silver--AndreaaRaducan, Romania, Bronze--Ekaterina Lobazniouk, Russia.Women’s Uneven Bars:
Gold--Svetlana Khorkina, Russia, Silver--Jie Ling, China, Bronze--Yun Yang, China.Women’s Balance Beam: Gold--Xuan Liu, China, Silver--Ekaterina Lobazniouk, Russia, Bronze--Elena Prodounova, Russia. Team: Gold--Romania, Silver--Russia, Bronze-
-China.Men’s Individual All-Around: Gold--Alexi Nemov, Russia, Silver--Wei Yang, China,
Bronze--Oleksandr Beresh, Ukraine. Men’s Floor Exercise: Gold--Igors Vihrovs, Latvia,Silver--Alexei Nemov, Russia, Bronze--Iordan Iovtchev, Bulgaria.Men’s Vault: Gold-
-Gervasio Deferr, Spain, Silver--Alexev Bondarenko, Russia, Bronze-- Leszek Blanik,Poland. Men’s Parallel Bars: Gold--Xiaopeng Li, China, Silver--Joo Hyung Lee, Korea,
Bronze--Alexi Nemov, Russia. Men’s Horizontal Bar: Gold--Alexei Nemov, Russia,Silver--Benjamin Varonian, France, Bronze--Joo Hyung Lee, Korea.Pommel Horse:
Gold--Maricus Urzica, Romania, Silver--Eric Poujade, France, Bronze--Alexei Nemov,Russia. Rings: Gold--Szilveszter Csollany, Hungary, Silver--Dimosthenis Tampakos,Greece, Bronze--Iordan Iovtchev, Bulgaria. Team: Gold--China, Silver--Ukraine, Bronze-
Also remember that there are excellent gymnastic performances to watch on high school
and collegiate levels. Recently, UCLA won the 2001 NCAA female championship andOhio State won the 2001 male NCAA competition.
WHAT TO DO:
The following questions will help you to have a greater appreciation and understanding
of gymnastics. Write your answers in the spaces below the questions. If there is not
enough room, write on the backs of these sheets. Be neat, spell correctly, and write in
complete sentences.1. Why is gymnastics often considered to be the “purest” of all sports or athletic
2. What are some of the physical benefits to be derived from participating in gymnastics?
3. What are the two types of gymnastics most commonly seen in competition and
what is the difference between them?
4. Which countries now dominate the international gymnastics scene and why?5. What is an “axis”? a “felge”? an“Arab spring”?
6. How would you execute a Hecht jump in a gymnastics competition?
7. Describe the vault exercise in women’s Olympic competitions. What do the terms
“first flight” and “second flight” have to do with this exercise?8. What are the criteria for judging the men’s floorexercises in men’s competitions?
9. What is the balance beam exercise test and how is it performed?10. Why must gymnasts begin to train at a very early age?
Short Answer Questions:1. The inverted giant swing is called a _____ giant
2. Rhythmic gymnastics includes movement similar to this type of dance
3. Imaginary line around which the body rotates
4. On the rings, when the feet swing down to touch the floor14. This beam is used in women’s gymnastics
15. The back is rounded with the chin on the chest
16. One of two types of gymnastics
18. Standard position for doing exercises19. One of two types of gymnastics
Down:1. The bar used in men’s gymnastics
2. This spring is similar to a cartwheel
3. The legs are apart
4. The bars are not at the same height
5. When one hangs upside down on the parallel bars and rolls
6. Ludwig _____ was the founder of gymnastics
7. Jump from higher of two asymmetrical bars
8. Artistic gymnastics includes a ____ exercise
9. This has two sections - first and second flight
10. The body forms a wide back arch in a handstand
11. The straddle L position is called a _____ right angle