See J. Goodbody, The Illustrated History of Gymnastics (1983); P. Aykroyd, Modern Gymnastics (1986).
Gymnastics is a sport involving performance of exercises requiring physical strength, agility and coordination. Artistic Gymnastics is the best known and most popular of the gymnastics sports governed by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG). It typically involves exercises on uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise, and vault (for women), and high bar, parallel bars, still rings, floor exercise, vault, and pommel horse (for men). It evolved from exercises used by the ancient Greeks, including skills for mounting and dismounting a horse, and circus performance skills. Other forms of gymnastics are rhythmic gymnastics, various trampolining sports and aerobic and acrobatic gymnastics.
To the Ancient Greeks, physical fitness was paramount, and all Greek cities had a gymnasia, a courtyard for jumping, running, and wrestling. As the Roman Empire ascended, Greek gymnastics gave way to 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. Later, Christianity, with its medieval belief in the base nature of the human body, had a deleterious effect on gymnastics. For centuries, gymnastics was all but forgotten.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, two pioneer physical educators – Johann Friedrich GutsMuths (1759 – 1839) and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778 – 1852) - created exercises for boys and young men on apparatus they designed that ultimately led to what is considered modern gymnastics. 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.
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. However, 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: synchronized team floor calisthenics, rope climbing, high jumping, running, horizontal ladder, etc. During the 1920s, women organized and participated in gymnastics events, and the first women's Olympic competition – primitive, for it involved only synchronized calisthenics - was held at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam.
By the 1954, Olympic Games apparatus and events for both men and women had been standardized in modern format, and uniform grading structures (including a point system from 1 to 10) had been agreed upon. At this time, Soviet gymnasts astounded the world with highly disciplined and difficult performances, setting a precedent that continues to inspire. The new medium of television helped publicize 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 Comaneci received the first perfect score, at the 1976 Summer Olympics held in Montreal, Canada. She was coached by the famous Romanian, Bela Karolyi. According to Sports Illustrated, Comaneci scored four of her perfect tens on the uneven bars, two on the balance beam and one in the floor exercise. Unfortunately, even with Nadia's perfect scores, the Romanians lost the gold medal to the Soviets. Nadia will always be remembered as "a fourteen year old, ponytailed little girl" who showed the world that perfection could be achieved.
In 2006, a new points system was put into play. Instead of being marked 1 to 10, the gymnast's start value depends on the difficulty rating of the exercise routine. Also, the deductions became higher: before the new point system developed, the deduction for a fall was 0.5, and now it is 0.8. The motivation for a new point system was to decrease the chance of gymnasts getting a perfect score. The sport can include children as young as three years old and sometimes younger doing kindergym and children's gymnastics, recreational gymnasts of all ages, competitive gymnasts at varying levels of skill, as well as world class athletes.
Traditionally, at the international level, competitions on the various apparatus consisted of two different performance categories: compulsory and optional. For the compulsory event, each gymnast performing on a specific apparatus executed the same required routine. At the optional level, the gymnast performed routines that he or she choreographed. Nowadays, each country may use compulsory and optional routines at their discretion in the training of young gymnasts.
At the compulsory levels (1-6) gymnasts are judged on a scale of 10, but as they reach the higher levels, particularly levels 9 and 10, the gymnasts' start-values may vary depending upon a number of different factors such as skill level and skill combinations. Also, every skill has a letter grade describing its difficulty. At level nine, to reach a start value of ten, the gymnast has to acquire bonus points, which she can achieve by connecting two or more skills of a certain high level of difficulty.
Compulsory levels of gymnastics have choreographed routines, and all women competing at that level do the same routines. In the United States, compulsory levels go from 1-6; most gymnasts start at levels 1-4 . In optional level competitions, however, all routines are different and have different floor music. Optional levels in the U.S. include levels 7 - 10 (elite). The Olympics, and college level gymnastics are also optional. In the Olympics, gymnasts are considered elite level gymnasts, which is higher level than the U.S. level 10.
As with the women, male gymnasts are also judged on all of their events, for their execution, degree of difficulty, and overall presentation skills.
The discipline of rhythmic gymnastics is competed only by women (although there is a new version of this discipline for men being pioneered in Japan, see Men's rhythmic gymnastics), and 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. Rhythmic routines are scored out of a possible 20 points, and the music used by the gymnast can contain vocals, but may not contain words.
Trampolining and tumbling consists of four events, individual, synchronized, double mini and power tumbling. Since 2000 individual trampoline has been included in the Olympic Games. Individual routines in trampolining 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. 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. Synchronized 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 power tumbling, athletes perform an explosive series of flips and twists down a sprung tumbling track. Scoring is similar to trampolining.
Performers must compete in preparatory grades A and B, then move on to grades 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5; by 3, 4 and 5 two routines are required, one for balances and another for tempos.
TeamGym originates from Scandinavia and this particular type of Gymnastics has been a major event for over 20 years. A team in this sport can have from 6 to 12 members, either all male, all female or a mixed squad. The team shows three disciplines, Trampette, Tumbling and Floor.
In every run of Tumbling and Trampette only six gymnasts compete. They stream their abilities (meaning that one gymnast goes after one another very quickly) The best move is the one performed last. Both are performed to music. Floor : All members of the Team take part here. It is a mixture of Dance, flexibility and skill. The routine has to be skillfully choreographed and the judges look out for changes in shape. There need to be at least two body waves involved, one spin, two balances and some actual gymnastic acrobatics. The Floor is performed to music. Trampette : Here a trampette is used. There are two components of this; Vault and the Trampette on its own. There has to be three runs in total. At least one of these runs has to be a vault run. Another run has to include all the gymnasts doing the same move. This is generally the first run. This is also performed to music. Tumbling : Again, here there are three runs (rounds) involved. One of which has to include all six gymnasts doing a forwards series. Another run also has to include the gymnasts completing the same move. Each series must have at least three different acrobatic elements.
Gymnastics is considered to be a dangerous sport, due in part to the height of the apparatus, the speed of the exercises and the impact on competitors' joints, bones and muscles. In several cases, competitors have suffered serious, lasting injuries and paralysis after severe gymnastics-related accidents. For instance, in 1998, at the Goodwill Games, world-class Chinese artistic gymnast Sang Lan was paralyzed after falling on vault.
Artistic gymnastics injuries have been the subject of several international medical studies, and results have indicated that more than half of all elite-level participants may eventually develop chronic injuries. In the United States, injury rates range from a high 56% for high school gymnasts to 23% for club gymnasts. However, the rates for participants in recreational or lower-level gymnastics are lower than that of high-level competitors. Conditioning, secure training environments with appropriate landing surfaces, and knowledgeable coaching can also lessen the frequency or occurrence of injuries.