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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.


Gymnastics has been popular since ancient Greece. However,

moderngymnastics 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 in

England.Mens 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.



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 does

gymnastics. 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 Lposition.


The two types of gymnastics most commonly seen in competition are artistic gymnastics

and rhythmic gymnastics. Artistic events are performed on equipment and on floor

mats. In the men
s division, there are six events: floor exercise, pommel horse, still
rings, vault, parallel bars and the horizontal bar. The womens 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.



Below is a sample of traditional womens and mens

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 deducted

from the final score.

Womens 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.

Mens 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.

Womens Balance Beam

The balance beam is sixteen and a half feet long and four inches wide. It tests a female

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 for gymnastics includes:

Parallel bars Men
s horizontal bar

Womens 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.


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 people

who 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 to

love women
s gymnastics.
But there is interest in mens 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. Womens Floor Exercise: Gold--Elena

Zamolodtchikova, Russia, Silver--Svetlana Khorkina, Russia, Bronze--Simona Amanar,

Romania. Womens Vault: Gold--Elena Zamolodtchikova, Russia, Silver--AndreaaRaducan, Romania, Bronze--Ekaterina Lobazniouk, Russia.

Womens Uneven Bars:

Gold--Svetlana Khorkina, Russia, Silver--Jie Ling, China, Bronze--Yun Yang, China.

Womens Balance Beam: Gold--Xuan Liu, China, Silver--Ekaterina Lobazniouk, Russia, Bronze--Elena Prodounova, Russia. Team: Gold--Romania, Silver--Russia, Bronze-


Men’s Individual All-Around: Gold--Alexi Nemov, Russia, Silver--Wei Yang, China,

Bronze--Oleksandr Beresh, Ukraine. Mens Floor Exercise: Gold--Igors Vihrovs, Latvia,Silver--Alexei Nemov, Russia, Bronze--Iordan Iovtchev, Bulgaria.

Mens Vault: Gold-

-Gervasio Deferr, Spain, Silver--Alexev Bondarenko, Russia, Bronze-- Leszek Blanik,

Mens Parallel Bars: Gold--Xiaopeng Li, China, Silver--Joo Hyung Lee, Korea,

Bronze--Alexi Nemov, Russia. Mens 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,

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 and

Ohio State won the 2001 male NCAA competition.


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
purestof 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 womens Olympic competitions. What do the terms

first flightand second flighthave to do with this exercise?8. What are the criteria for judging the mens floor

exercises in mens 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 floor

14. 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 exercises

19. One of two types of gymnastics


1. The bar used in mens 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

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