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To the ancient Greeks, physical fitness was paramount, and all Greek cities had a gymnasia, a courtyard for jumping, running, and wrestling. The Greeks tried to introduce gymnastics to the Romans, but the Romans found it immoral and banned the practice. For centuries, gymnastics was all but forgotten. In the nineteenth century, however, interest in gymnastics soared, and a men’s gymnastics competition was included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Over the years, gymnastics has undergone many changes. Originally, men’s competition included swimming and running events, and did not acquire its present form until the 1924 Games in Paris . During the 1920s, women organized and participated in gymnastic events, and the first women’s Olympic competition was held at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam . Both men’s and women’s gymnastics now attract international interest, and excellent gymnasts can be found on every continent.

Performance is scored on a 10-point scale. For each routine, the gymnast begins with less than a perfect score—9.0 for women, 8.6 for men. From that base, judges deduct for flaws in execution, exceeding the time limit, or failing to perform a required movement. Judges can also award bonus points, up to 1.0 for women, up to 1.4 for men. Bonuses are given for outstanding execution of the most difficult moves.

Gymnastics competitions are divided into four parts—a qualifying competition, the team final, the all-around final, and the apparatus final. To qualify, gymnasts perform an optional exercise on each apparatus. (Compulsory exercises were eliminated after the Atlanta Games.) Each team from each country in the team finals is made up of six gymnasts. Five gymnasts perform unique, optional exercises on each apparatus; four scores count, with the lowest score in each rotation discarded. The sum of the top four scores is the team score. The thirty-six gymnasts who achieved the highest combined individual scores in the team finals then move on to the individual all-around final. However, only three gymnasts from each nation may compete in the final, regardless of where they ranked in the top thirty-six. Each gymnast performs an optional routine on each apparatus—four for women; six for men. However, the women’s vault consists of two vaults with the scores averaged. The Olympic all-around champion is the competitor with the highest cumulative score. For the apparatus finals, the top eight scorers on each apparatus during the qualifying competition move on to this concluding event. There is a limit of two gymnasts from each nation per apparatus. Each gymnast completes one exercise on the apparatus for which he or she qualified. The exception is in the men’s and women’s vault, where two vaults are performed and the scores averaged for the final score.

The Apparatus
The Federation Internationale Gymnastique (FIG) has established a definite order in which gymnastics events must be performed. In the following order, men must perform the floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and horizontal bar. Women must perform the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise.

Men’s Events
Floor Exercise—This routine is performed on a 12-meter-square mat. The men’s routine lasts from 50 to 70 seconds and is always performed without music. Both the compulsory and the freestyle routines must include required tumbling and static maneuvers demonstrating balance, strength, flexibility, and acrobatics.

Pommel Horse—This routine is performed on a leather-covered apparatus, in the center of which are inserted two wooden pommels, or handles. The exercise is composed of clean leg swings, and the routine must cover the entire length of the horse. Each routine must include at least three scissors, in which the legs split and alternately straddle the horse with pendulum-like swinging motions. Only the hands may be used for support; no other part of the body is to touch the apparatus throughout the entire routine. The legs must remain straight and the toes pointed at all times.

Rings—The two rings are suspended from the ceiling and hang 2.55 meters above the floor. This event requires the most strength of all the gymnastic exercises. A routine consists of handstands, body swings, and the holding of static positions, such as the famous “iron cross.” It is important that while the body is swinging, the rings remain motionless. The dismount usually includes difficult twists and/or somersaults.

Vault—Men use the same horse for vaulting that they do for their pommel horse routines. The athlete takes off from a springboard, pushes off with both hands placed on the surface of the apparatus, then completes his flight with acrobatic twists, turns, and somersaults before making a controlled landing. For men, most vaults are executed over the length of the “horse.”

Parallel Bars—This routine is performed on two flexible parallel wooden rails. A routine employs a continuous series of swinging moves, static holds, and midair somersaults, capped by spectacular flying dismounts.

Horizontal Bar—This routine is performed on a single steel bar, 2.55 meters off the ground. A routine requires static handstands at the top of the bar, as well as one-handed and two-handed swings around the bar, somersaults, and vaults over the bar before it is grasped again. The dismount begins with giant swings that produce a high flying arc and allow for multiple twists and somersaults prior to the controlled landing.

Women’s Events
Vault—The women’s vaulting “horse” or apparatus has no pommels. Moreover, women approach perpendicular to the apparatus and vault it from the side. The gymnast runs full speed down a 1219-1829 cm (40-60 feet) runway and takes off from a 119.38 cm (3 feet, 11 inch) springboard. Women must execute any of three types of vaults: handstand, horizontal vault, or a vault with turns. On landing, only one step may be taken without incurring a penalty, and that step must be in the direction of the descent.

Uneven Bars—This routine is performed on a set of flexible wooden parallel bars, the uppermost set 2.45 meters and the lower set 1.65 meters above the floor. A good performance demands continuous swinging and vaulting over, under, and between the bars, with a formal mount and dismount part of the overall routine.

Balance Beam—The balance beam is 5 meters long, 10 cm wide, and 1.25 meters above the floor. A routine consists of tumbling moves, turns, leaps, and suspended static positions. The formal mount and dismount are among the most dramatic maneuvers of the entire routine.

Floor Exercise—This is considered the most artistic of all gymnastic disciplines, as it combines modern and classical dance steps with tumbling and acrobatics. The entire routine is performed to music of the gymnast’s own choosing.  Although there are required movements, no other event encourages such expression of personality and freedom of execution.

Rhythmic Gymnastics
This newest Olympic gymnastics discipline may be best described as a cross between a floor exercise and classical ballet. It approaches the area of dance and tends to favor the more mature gymnast. Rhythmic gymnastics requires smooth, graceful body movements while performing with handheld apparatus such as the hoop, ball, clubs, rope, and ribbon. Only one apparatus may be used at a time. Unlike the floor exercise, however, there are no airborne acrobatic moves; at least one part of the body must remain in contact with the 12-meter-square floor mat at all times. Everything is done to music, and gymnasts often choose classical or other soft, melodious tunes. (Floor exercise routines, by contrast, are often performed to jazz or other upbeat tempos.) Rhythmic events are judged on the same 10-point scale and evaluated according to choreographic quality and originality, harmony, precision, and execution.

Athletes perform two routines of ten skills each, which include double, triple, and twisting somersaults. Scoring is on the same 10-point scale as that used in gymnastics events.

Synchronized Trampoline
This event needs precision timing, as two athletes perform the same ten skills. They mirror one another.

Double Mini-Trampoline
This event combines the run of tumbling with the rebound of trampoline. The athlete runs, jumps onto a two-level trampoline, rebounds, and dismounts onto a landing mat. Some compare this event to springboard diving using a mat instead of water.

News, History, and Fast Facts
Gymnastics can be one of the most difficult sports for spectators to watch because it has a very specialized terminology. Click on the links below for glossaries to get you primed for the Games ahead.

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General Sports Links
Olympians will compete in dozens of sports this summer. Even though Gateway to the Summer Games can't feature them all, you can learn about each and every one by visiting the sites listed below.

Portions of the above text were excerpted from Share the Olympic Dream--Volume II.
© 2001 by Griffin Publishing Group/United States Olympic Committee.

For information on purchasing Griffin materials, please visit the Griffin Publishing Group Web site at http://www.griffinpublishing.com.


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