Athletes swing their bodies around bars and beams with precision. They perform acrobatic routines while dashing across floor mats or jumping on trampolines. This is gymnastics, a sport filled with graceful moves and breathtaking leaps. Gymnastics is a men’s and women’s sport that requires balance, strength, flexibility, agility, coordination, endurance and control.
Gymnastics is one of the most beautiful and demanding of all sports. Gymnastics helps athletes develop strength, rhythm, balance, flexibility, and agility.
WHAT IS GYMNASTICS?
In gymnastics, athletes perform in a variety of events. An athlete’s performance in an event is called a routine. There are several kinds of events. Some events require athletes to perform routines using equipment, such as a balance beam or parallel bars. Other events involve tumbling, leaping, or balancing on the floor without equipment.
In competitive gymnastics, two or more teams of athletes compete against each other. Women’s teams and men’s teams compete separately. Boys and girls also compete in gymnastics. But the events for younger and older athletes often differ.
Each team has seven members. Six members compete in each event. Judges score each member’s performance using a 10-point scale. A 10 is the highest score a judge can give. For each event, the highest five scores on each team are added together. The team with the highest overall score for all events wins the competition.
Women compete in four events at gymnastics meets. They are the balance beam, the uneven bars, the vault (also called the horse), and the floor exercise.
In the balance beam, gymnasts perform leaps, turns, and other moves on a wooden beam that is 3.9 feet (1.2 meters) above the ground. In the uneven bars, gymnasts swing over and under two bars that are parallel but at different heights. They end their routines with high-flying dismounts.
The vault involves a piece of padded equipment called a horse. Gymnasts run toward the horse and flip themselves over it. The floor exercise is a routine performed on a large mat. The routine may involve dancing, tumbling, and acrobatics. Women perform their floor exercises to music.
Men compete in six events at gymnastic meets. They are the vault, pommel horse, rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, and floor exercise.
The men’s vault uses a horse that is slightly longer and higher than the women’s vault. The pommel horse is a padded horse with two handles. Gymnasts use the handles to swing their legs and bodies around in sweeping movements.
In the rings, gymnasts perform dramatic moves while hanging from rings that are 9 feet (2.75 meters) above the floor. Men also perform routines on the parallel bars and on the single, higher horizontal bar. The men’s floor exercise involves tumbling, handsprings, somersaults, and other movements on a large mat.
OTHER GYMNASTICS EVENTS
Women may also compete in a separate type of gymnastic competition called rhythmic gymnastics. For this, athletes use items such as ribbons and hoops to perform elegant floor exercises set to music.
Both men and women may compete in the trampoline, another type of gymnastics competition. In trampoline events, gymnasts bounce on trampolines to perform acrobatic routines high in the air.
GYMNASTICS LONG AGO
More than 2,000 years ago, some of the world’s earliest gymnasts practiced a sport called bull-leaping. In this sport, a contestant ran toward a charging bull and grabbed his horns. The contestant tried to get tossed in the air by the bull. Once airborne, the contestant performed various acrobatic stunts before landing on the bull’s back. To finish, the contestant would jump off the bull with a flip!
GREAT MOMENTS AT THE OLYMPICS
Gymnastics competition has been a part of the modern Olympic Games since 1896. Events in rhythmic gymnastics were added in 1984. Trampoline events were added in 2000.
Only men competed at the first Olympics. Since then, some of the world’s most famous gymnasts have been women.
In 1972, Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union charmed the world with her gymnastic performances and won three gold medals. In 1976, Nadia Comaneci of Romania became the first Olympic gymnast ever to score a perfect 10 in any event. That meant every judge gave her a score of 10. Comaneci received perfect 10s seven times. She won three gold medals, one silver, and one bronze.
In 1984, American gymnast Mary Lou Retton won five gold medals. In doing so, she became the first U.S. woman to win the gold medal in the all-around competition. For that medal, an athlete’s scores in all four women’s events are combined.
In 1996, the U.S. women won the overall team gold medal for the first time. The team competition combines the scores of each team member in each event.