6 Reasons Gymnastics Is the Toughest Sport There Is

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You Need Very Specialized Skills

Katelyn Ohashi

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Gymnastics doesn’t translate well to many other sports. Sure, gymnasts sometimes become great divers, pole vaulters and aerial skiers (and sometimes vice versa) but for the most part, an athlete who excels in another sport will not necessarily be good at gymnastics. Gymnasts need balance, speed, strength, hand-eye coordination and a lot of explosive power, among other things.

And the skillset required changes from event to event. For instance, in competition, male gymnasts move from pommel horse, which requires balance, enormous core strength, and hand-eye coordination; to rings, which requires brute strength; to vault, which requires tremendous power. Challenging? Incredibly.

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It's Scary

Kyla Ross 2014 Worlds Gymnastics
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Every gymnast gets scared, and most get scared every single day in practice. Some have skills or entire groups of skills that they simply won’t do because of a mental block (like, in extreme examples, backward twisting or tumbling.) Gymnasts perform multiple flips and twists, high up in the air, and wipe-outs happen. Every gymnast has a story of a near-miss or a freak injury caused by a skill gone awry. Some have many stories like this.

Gymnastics is a scary sport, and fear is something that gymnasts have to deal with all the time.

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Training Is a Full-Time Job

2012 Olympic Team Fierce Five Gymnastics
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Top gymnasts put in as many hours as adults do at a desk job: Elites often average about 40 hours a week of training time. But even younger, less experienced gymnasts put in a huge amount of hours. Beginner competitors at Junior Olympic levels 4, 5 and 6 routinely have three or four practices a week, and each is often two or three hours long.

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You Start Very, Very Young

Young Gymnasts
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There are a few sports that are certainly for the young, and gymnastics is one of those. Many kids get their start at age two or three in their first pre-school gymnastics classes. Those same children get “serious” and start competing at age six or seven – and at that point, they’re training several times a week.

Age rules require Olympians to be at least 16 in the calendar year, but there are junior elite gymnasts on the women’s side as young as 11 and 12. It’s not impossible to be an older gymnast -- 2004 Olympians Annia Hatch and Mohini Bharwaj, as well as other "older" Olympians like Oksana Chusovitina, and countless recreational adult gymnasts prove this -- but the sport is definitely harder as you get older.

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You Compete Under Intense Pressure

Gymnastics Judges
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In most sports, if you blow it in competition you get a chance to redeem yourself. In gymnastics, there’s very little room for error. An entire meet is only four events for women, six for men, and one shot at every routine. The total time on the competition floor being judged is usually less than five minutes, and there are no do-overs.

And there aren’t many competitions: sometimes, even in beginner-level competitions, a gymnast has only two or three meets to get a qualifying score that advances her to the next level of competition. At state and regional competitions at the higher Junior Olympic levels, the gymnast has only one chance – that day – to do her best. Elite gymnasts have even more intense pressure: Even the so-called qualifying day of a world's or Olympic competition is hugely important because it determines who competes in team, all-around and event finals.

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You Have to Be a Perfectionist

Jazmyn Foberg 2014 US Gymnastics Nationals
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Gymnasts perform the same routines countless times in practice in order to make it perfect – or as close to perfect – as possible when it really counts in competition. In order to do this, they’re constantly evaluating every skill with their coaches and making tweaks to how they perform them. It’s an endless process, and it’s often tedious as well.