Men's Artistic Gymnastics

Samuel Mikulak of the United States performing his routine on the Pommel horse during the Artistic Gymnastics Men's Team Final at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Men’s artistic gymnastics is the oldest form of gymnastics and the second most popular type of gymnastics in the United States. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) estimates that about 1.3 million males participate in gymnastics. Approximately 12,000 men and boys compete in the US Junior Olympic program, while others participate in AAU, YMCA and other organizations.

History of Men’s Artistic Gymnastics

The first major competition in men's gymnastics was the 1896 Athens Olympics. Gymnasts from five countries participated in the individual events of pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar. German gymnasts won nine of the 15 medals awarded.

The first World Championships took place in 1903 in Antwerp, Belgium. Team and all-around competitions were added during this time. At the 1930 World Championships in Luxembourg, pole vault, broad jump, shot put, rope climb and a 100-meter sprint were all included as events.

These events were phased out in 1954, however, and since then, the only events competed at worlds have been the six traditional men's apparatus (floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar), the all-around and team competition. Not all World Championships have included each type of competition, however. (For example, the 2005 worlds only had competition on each individual apparatus and in the all-around).

The Participants

Men’s artistic gymnastics has only male participants. Boys start young, though usually not as young as in women’s artistic. Male gymnasts find it difficult to develop the strength required until they’ve reached puberty, so elite male gymnasts are typically in their late teens to mid-20s. A gymnast becomes age-eligible for the Olympic Games on January 1st of his 16th year. (For example, a gymnast born Dec. 31, 2000, is age eligible for the 2016 Olympics).

Athletic Requirements

Top artistic gymnasts must have many qualities: strength, air sense, power, balance, and flexibility are some of the most important. They must also have psychological attributes such as the ability to compete under pressure, the courage to attempt risky skills, and the discipline and work ethic to practice the same routine many times.

The Events

Male artistic gymnasts compete in six events:

  • Floor Exercise: The gymnast performs a routine no longer than 70 seconds, usually consisting of four or five tumbling passes, a balance element or strength move, and sometimes circles and flairs similar to those seen on the pommel horse. The floor mat is 40 ft. by 40 ft. and is usually made of carpeting over padded foam and springs.
  • Pommel Horse: The gymnast swings around the pommel horse on his hands, without letting any other part of his body touch the horse and without stopping during the routine. He uses the whole length of the horse and performs circles, flairs, scissors, moves up to handstand and back down, and a dismount.
  • Still Rings: The gymnast completes swinging moves, handstands, strength moves, and a dismount on rings suspended approximately 9 ft. from the ground. Unlike the pommel horse, a gymnast must stop and hold his strength moves for at least two seconds. During this time, the rings should be as still as possible.
  • Vault: The gymnast runs down a runway, hurdles onto a springboard, and is propelled over a vaulting “table” about 4 feet off the ground.
  • Parallel Bars: The gymnast performs swings, release moves, pirouettes, and a dismount using two horizontal bars set at the same height. The bars are about 6.4 ft. from the floor and made of wood or plastic.
  • High Bar: The gymnast performs pirouettes, high-flying release moves, swings, and a dismount on a single bar, 9 ft. off the floor. The bar is smaller in diameter than the parallel bars and is made of metal.


Olympic competition consists of:

  • Team: Five athletes are on a team. In preliminaries, four athletes compete on each of the six events and three scores count. In finals, three athletes compete on each event and every score counts towards the team total. Only the scores from the final round are considered when deciding the team medals.
  • Individual All-Around: An athlete competes on all six events and the total score is added up.
  • Individual Events: An event champion is named on each apparatus.


The Perfect 10. Artistic gymnastics used to be well-known for its top score: the 10.0. First achieved in the Olympics by female gymnastics legend Nadia Comaneci, the 10.0 marked a perfect routine. Since 1992, however, no artistic gymnasts have earned a 10.0 in the World Championships or Olympics.

A New System. In 2005, gymnastics officials did a complete overhaul of the Code of Points. Today, the difficulty of the routine and the execution (how well the skills are performed) are combined to create the final score:

  • The execution (“E”) score begins at a 10.0, and the judges deduct for errors in performance such as a fall off the apparatus or a step on the landing of a dismount.
  • The difficulty (“D”) score starts at 0.0 and increases with every difficult skill performed.

In this new system there is theoretically no limit to the score a gymnast can achieve. The top performances in men’s gymnastics right now are receiving scores in the 16s.

This new scoring system has been criticized by fans, gymnasts, coaches and other gymnastics insiders. Many believed the perfect 10.0 was essential to the identity of the sport. Some members of the gymnastics community feel that the new Code of Points has resulted in an increase in injuries because the difficulty score is weighed too heavily, convincing gymnasts to attempt very risky skills.

NCAA women's gymnastics, the US Junior Olympic program and other competitive arenas besides elite gymnastics have maintained the 10.0 as the top score.

Judge for Yourself

Though the Code of Points in men’s gymnastics is complex, spectators can still identify great routines without knowing every nuance of the scoring system. When watching a routine, be sure to look for:

  • Good Form and Execution: A gymnast should always look as though he is in complete control, even when performing the most difficult of skills. Good form in gymnastics includes pointed toes, straight arms and legs, and a tightness throughout the body. Every movement should look planned.
  • Strength Moves Held Long Enough: On the still rings and on floor, the gymnast must stay in position for 2 seconds on each strength move (e.g. planche (pictured next page), iron cross, Maltese (pictured above).
  • Height and Distance: In tumbling passes, vaults, and release moves, the gymnast should look as if he is exploding off the apparatus. On vault, the distance a gymnast travels from the horse is a factor in his final score.
  • A Stuck Landing: On vaulting, dismounts, and tumbling passes on floor, the gymnast should end with a “stuck landing” -- he should not move his feet once they hit the ground.
  • Uniqueness of the Routine: A great gymnast will perform a routine that looks different from the rest. It will have something special about it -- risky tricks, an artistic flair, or skills that are simply unique from others performed in the competition.

U.S. Male Artistic Gymnasts

Some of the best-known American gymnasts are:

  • Kurt Thomas: First American to become a world champion (1978; floor), won four medals at the 1979 worlds (gold: floor; silver: all-around, pommel horse, parallel bars)
  • Bart Conner: Two-time Olympic gold medalist (1984)
  • Mitch Gaylord: Four-time Olympic medalist (1984), star of the movie American Anthem
  • Tim Daggett: Olympic gold medalist (1984, team), commentator for NBC Sports
  • John Roethlisberger: Three-time Olympian (1992-2000), Four-time US national champion (1990, 1992, 1993, 1995)
  • Blaine Wilson: Five-time US national champion (1996-2000)
  • Paul Hamm: First American man to become an all-around world champion (2003) and first to become an Olympic all-around champion (2004)

Accomplished non-American competitors include:

  • Sawao Kato (Japan): Eight-time Olympic gold medalist (1968-1976)
  • Mitsou Tsukahara (Japan): Five-time Olympic gold medalist (1968-1976), invented the “Tsukahara” style of vaulting
  • Nikolai Andrianov (the former USSR): Seven-time Olympic gold medalist (1972-1980), four-time world gold medalist (1974, 1978, 1979)
  • Li Ning (China): Three-time Olympic gold medalist (1984)
  • Dimitry Bilozerchev (the former USSR): Three-time Olympic gold medalist (1988)
  • Valeri Liukin (the former USSR): Four-time Olympic medalist (1988), credited as the first to perform a triple back on floor, and father/coach of 2008 star Nastia Liukin
  • Vitaly Scherbo (the former USSR, Belarus): Six-time Olympic gold medalist (1992), four-time Olympic bronze medalist (1996)
  • Alexei Nemov (Russia): 12-time Olympic medalist (1996, 2000)
  • Yang Wei (China): Two-time world all-around champion (2006, 2007), 2008 Olympic all-around champion

U.S. Gymnasts to Watch

  • Danell Leyva: 2011 US national champion, world gold medalist on parallel bars, and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the all-around
  • John Orozco: 2012 US national champ and three-time junior all-around champ
  • Jake Dalton: 2013 American Cup champ and 2012 Olympic team member
  • Jonathan Horton: 2009 and 2010 US national champion, two-time Olympic medalist in 2008 (silver, high bar; bronze, team)

International (non U.S.) Gymnasts of Note

  • Kohei Uchimura (Japan): Three-time all-around world champion, 2012 Olympic all-around champ
  • Marcel Nguyen (Germany): 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist
  • Fabian Hambuechen (Germany): Seven-time world medalist, two-time Olympic medalist
  • Zou Kai (China): Three-time Olympic gold medalist in 2008 (team, floor, high bar); two-time Olympic gold medalist in 2012 (team, floor)

Top Teams

  • China: The 2010 and 2011 world champions and the 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion, China is the team to beat in almost every competition. Though the Chinese have lost all-around superstar Yang Wei, they have a very deep pool of athletes from which to choose. The Chinese team used to be known for crumbling under pressure (at the 2004 Olympics, the heavily-favored team fell to fifth in the team finals,) but in recent years, this hasn't been a problem.
  • Japan: The 2004 Olympic champion, Japan was the runner-up in the 2010 and 2011 worlds and the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. With strong all-arounders like Kohei Uchimura, Japan can usually give China a run for its money if China has a miss. Japanese gymnasts are known for their clean form and technique, and their history of winning Olympic gold – six team titles in all.
  • United States: The US won the silver at both the 2003 World Championships and 2004 Olympic Games, and landed an inspiring team bronze at the 2008 Olympics. Since then, the team has continued to do well, placing fourth at the 2010 worlds and third at the 2011 worlds. The US was first after the qualifying round at the 2012 Games, before faltering to fifth in the finals. Look for this young squad to rebound in the coming years.
  • Russia: The Russian team had a disappointing 6th place finish at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, but can be one of the top teams in the world, (it was fourth at the 2011 worlds). Like Japan, Russia has a history of winning Olympic gold medals dating back to the former Soviet Union in 1956.
  • Great Britain: The Brits earned team bronze in front of their home crowd at the 2012 Olympics, and have a talented group of gymnasts that should serve them well in the future.
  • Germany: Germany won the bronze at the 2010 worlds, but dropped to sixth in 2011 and seventh at the 2012 Games.