Olympic Gymnastics: The Basics of Women's Artistic Gymnastics

Simone Biles 2015 worlds Glasgow
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Women’s artistic gymnastics (often shortened to simply women’s gymnastics), is one of the most popular Olympic sports. As the name states, it has all-female participants, and gymnasts must be at least 16 years old by the end of the Olympic year in order to compete.

Top female gymnasts must have many different attributes: strength, balance, flexibility, air sense, and grace are some of the most important. They also must have the courage to attempt difficult tricks and to compete under intense pressure.

Women's Gymnastics Events & Equipment

Female artistic gymnasts compete on four pieces of equipment:

  • Vault: The gymnast runs down a runway, jumps onto a springboard, and is propelled over a vaulting “table” about 4 feet off the ground.
  • Uneven Bars: The gymnast performs swings, release moves, pirouettes, and a dismount using two horizontal bars set at different heights. The lower bar is usually about 5 ft. off the ground, and the high bar is about 8 ft. from the floor.
  • Balance Beam: The gymnast completes a choreographed routine with a mount, leaps, jumps, flips, turns, and a dismount on a padded, wooden beam approximately 4 ft. high. The exercise may not be longer than 90 seconds.
  • Floor Exercise: The gymnast performs a choreographed routine to music of her choice. The routine usually consists of 4 or 5 tumbling passes, as well as leaps, jumps and dance moves, and cannot be longer than 90 seconds. The floor mat is 40 ft. by 40 ft. and is usually made of carpeting over padded foam and springs.


All individual athletes and teams compete. The scores from this one competition determine who qualifies to team finals, all-around finals, and individual event finals.

Those trying to qualify as a team put up four athletes on each event, and three of those scores count. There are five total athletes on each team. Teams that score in the top eight qualify to team finals.

Also during preliminaries, the top 24 gymnasts in the all-around (the total of all four events) qualify to all-around finals. No more than two gymnasts from each country may qualify, however, in a controversial "two-per-country" rule. This leaves athletes on strong teams such as the United States and Russia competing with their own teammates in preliminaries in an effort to become the number one or two all-arounder on the team. (In 2012, the reigning world champion, Jordyn Wieber, didn't qualify to the all-around finals because two of her teammates scored higher than her in preliminaries -- despite having the fourth-best overall score in the rankings.)

Finally, the top eight scorers on every apparatus during preliminaries qualify to the individual event finals. Again, only two gymnasts are allowed per team.

Team Finals 

Team finals are the next competition following preliminaries. Though the scores from preliminaries are erased at this point, the teams are seeded. The top two teams get to compete in the Olympic order of events (vault, bars, beam, floor), generally considered the best progression to compete.

Each team puts up three of its six athletes on every event, and every score counts. Since only the scores from this final round are used when deciding the team medals, this meet is a real pressure-cooker. Even a low score is counted in the final result, and a major mistake can take a team completely out of the medals.

Individual All-Around Finals

The all-around final competition comes after team finals. Each of the 24 qualifiers from preliminaries competes in all four events. Though the scores from prelims are wiped clean, the athletes are again seeded. The top six compete together in one group; slots 7-12 compete in another group; and so forth. Like team finals, the top group has the advantage of competing in Olympic order.

Individual Event Finals

Finally, an event champion is named on each apparatus. The top eight scorers from preliminaries all compete that one event and the top score of that day gets the gold. (Again, no scores are carried over from preliminaries). There is no seeding in event finals. The order in which the athletes compete is a random draw, and tie scores are broken at the Olympics.