A Handy Introduction to the Sport of Gymnastics

Female gymnast on balance beam

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The formal definition of gymnastics, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is "Exercises developing or displaying physical agility and coordination. The modern sport of gymnastics typically involves exercises on uneven bars, balance beam, floor, and vaulting horse for women, and horizontal and parallel bars, rings, floor, and pommel horse for men."

Gymnastics is a sport in which athletes called gymnasts perform acrobatic feats – leaps, flips, turns, handstands and more – on a piece of apparatus such as a balance beam, or with a piece of apparatus like a rope or ribbon. 

What Are the Different Types of Gymnastics?

There are three types of gymnastics currently featured in the Olympics: artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and trampoline. Artistic gymnastics is the most commonly known. Men and women both compete on equipment like the uneven bars, parallel bars, and rings. 

Rhythmic gymnastics is probably the second best known. Gymnasts all compete on the same floor mat, but they use ribbons, ropes, hoops and other equipment as part of their routines. 

The trampoline was named an Olympic discipline of gymnastics for the 2000 Olympics. Gymnasts perform routines on a trampoline, completing flips on every single bounce. 

Other types of gymnastics not currently on the Olympic roster include tumbling, acrobatic gymnastics, and group gymnastics. 

What Are the Gymnastics Events?

When people think of gymnastics, artistic gymnastics apparatus is what often comes to mind. For women, this includes the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. For men, it's floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar. 

When Did Gymnastics Become a Sport?

Gymnastics can trace its roots all the way back to the ancient Greeks. The sport has been included in the Olympics since the first modern Games in 1896. The earliest Olympic competitions most closely align with today's men's artistic gymnastics: All participants were male and they competed on events like parallel bars and high bar, although the rope climb was an event then and is no longer included. 

Which Are the Best Gymnastics Teams?

In artistic gymnastics, the Soviet Union and Japan (on the men's side) dominated the second half of the 20th century. More recently, the United States, Russia, China, Romania, and Japan have been the top teams in artistic gymnastics. Russia and other former Soviet countries like Belarus and Ukraine have won the most Olympic medals in rhythmic gymnastics. 

The youngest Olympic discipline, trampoline, has had a diverse group of Olympic medalists, from Russia to China and Canada.

Which Are the Biggest Gymnastics Competitions? 

The Olympics is the ultimate gymnastics meet, and many young gymnasts set their sights on making the Olympic gymnastics team. The Olympics are held every four years and artistic gymnastics teams now have five members beginning with the 2012 Games in London. The teams used to have six members through the 2008 Games, and they had seven through the 1996 Games.

World Championships are the second biggest competition in gymnastics and they've been held in every non-Olympic year in recent years. There were two Worlds in 1994, one for teams and one for individuals, as well as a Worlds in 1996, the Olympic year. Worlds has sometimes been held every two years, too.

Other major competitions include the European Championships, the Asian Games, the Pan American Games and World Cup meets.

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