You know their names – Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, and Simone Biles – you know that they’re Olympic gymnasts, and you may have even watched some of their gold-medal winning routines during the 2016 Olympic Games.
But how much do you really know about the sport?
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After an intense period of conditioning and perfecting complex routines, gymnasts are judged on a set of strict criteria to determine a winner.
Some of the most well-known gymnastic exercises are the balance beam, the vault, the bars, and the trampoline.
But there’s so much more to the sport than flipping and jumping around – it’s a highly disciplined art form that requires your mind to be as sharp as your body is strong.
It’s about building confidence in your movements and developing an eye for perfection, and it requires incredible strength, stamina, and control.
The History of Gymnastics
The concept of gymnastics – the art of strengthening the body in order to perform precise, complex movements – can be traced back as far as Ancient Greece, or sometime between 800 and 500 B.C.
The word “gymnastic” comes from the Greek “gymnos”, meaning “naked”. That’s because the men who practiced gymnastic exercises did so completely in the buff.
That may sound silly now, but back then serious warriors would use these exercises to train for battle or compete against each other in the ancient Olympic Games, which lasted up until 393 A.D.
Gymnastics as we know it today didn’t really start to take shape until the late 18th century.
Two German physical educators, Johann Friedrich GutsMuths and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, created and taught the first “modern” gymnastic exercises using apparatuses such as rings and parallel bars.
Often referred to as the fathers of gymnastics, they would help to propel the sport into the mainstream over the next several decades.
A century later in 1896, gymnastics had become popular enough to be included in the first modern Olympic Games.
Women were not allowed to compete in Olympic gymnastics competitions until 1928, and rhythmic gymnastics were not introduced until 1984.
As of 2016, there are 18 different gymnastic events in the Olympics.
Gymnastics: Rules and Scoring
Gymnastic scoring often appears simple at first glance. An athlete performs a routine, and the judges hold up a number between zero and ten based on how well they performed, right?
Not exactly – it’s far more complicated than that. And due to rule changes, the “perfect 10” is a thing of the past – currently, the highest score an Olympic athlete can receive is actually a 16.
The Code of Points
For starters, there’s more than one way to score a gymnastic competition. Every major organization has its own rules, or code of points, that determine how athletes will be scored.
This is made even more confusing by the fact that point codes are constantly being altered and overhauled.
But no matter how the code of points is changed, all judges are essentially looking for the same four elements in a performance – execution, artistry, technique, and composition.
To ensure accuracy, two different scores are taken and then combined at the end of each performance (this is true for both men’s and women’s gymnastics). The first score is the D-score, or difficulty score.
To calculate a D-score, judges begin at zero and add points throughout the routine for each successful move.
The difficulty rating of a move ranges from A to I, with A-rank moves being the easiest to perform and I-rank moves being the most difficult.
So, an E-rank move, if executed properly, will earn an athlete more points than a B-rank move. Extra points are awarded for good connections, or how quickly and smoothly a gymnast can switch between skills.
The other type of score that’s taken during every gymnastic routine is the E-score, or execution score.
Unlike the D-score that begins at zero and adds points, the E-score begins at ten and is then reduced for every mistake.
Small mistakes receive decimal point deductions, while much larger mistakes, such as falling off the beam, can see an athlete’s score reduced by an entire point.
Other common reasons for point deductions include:
- Taking steps after landing dismount
- Swinging arms after landing dismount
- Bent arms or legs
- Incomplete splits
- Toes aren’t pointed
- Loss of balance
Once the D-score and the E-score have been taken, the two are simply added together to obtain a final mark.
Disqualifications are rare, but can occur if an athlete receives help from a coach during their routine or is later found to have broken a competition rule (being under the age limit, using performance enhancing drugs).
Types of Gymnastics
Olympic gymnastics can be separated into three main categories – artistic, rhythmic, and trampoline.
Outside of the Games, there are several other categories, including tumbling, acrobatic gymnastics, and aesthetic gymnastics.
Artistic gymnastics are generally more well-known, and what you typically think of when you hear the word “gymnastics”.
With the exception of the floor exercise, all of these events involve the use of an apparatus such as a beam, bars, a vault, or rings.
Artistic gymnastic performances emphasize the technical, high-precision side of the sport, and are generally short in length.
In the Olympics, there are 10 different artistic gymnastic events – four for women and six for men.
Women’s Only Events
- Uneven bars
- Balance beam
Men’s Only Events
- Pommel horse
- Even bars
- Still rings
- High bar
Men and Women’s Events
- Floor exercise
Rhythmic gymnastics combines the strength and precision of the sport with the beauty and poise of dance.
Rhythmic gymnasts perform a choreographed routine set to music and often involves the use of ribbons, hoops, or clubs.
Judges place greater emphasis on the artistic elements of the performance than on the technical elements.
While the Olympic event is restricted to women, that doesn’t mean that men do not compete in rhythmic gymnastics competitions in other parts of the world, particularly Japan.
Trampoline and Tumbling
Trampoline gymnastics were only recently added to the Olympic Games in 2000.
It’s exactly what it sounds like – athletes perform high-flying acrobatic stunts by jumping up and down on a trampoline. There are trampoline competitions for both men and women.
Tumbling isn’t an Olympic Sport in and of itself, but tumbling moves such as flips, handstands, and somersaults are used often in floor exercises and rhythmic routines.
While by no means easy, tumbling is one of the more accessible types of gymnastics because it doesn’t require any special equipment – you don’t need to go to a gym to practice.
The most popular tumbling mats for home-use are anywhere between $50 and $100, which is within the boundaries of most budgets.
Acrobatic gymnastics are performed in groups of two, three, or four.
Like rhythmic gymnastics, emphasis is placed on aesthetics, choreography, and style, but because acrobatic gymnastics are performed in pairs or groups, a sense of unity is also very important.
Also unlike rhythmic routines, no apparatuses – balls, ribbons, or otherwise – are used.
Usually, one athlete serves as the “base” that supports and balances the other “top” to create a sort of human tower. It’s a feat that takes incredible strength on the part of both athletes.
Acrobatic gymnastic routines are commonly performed as entertainment. Cirque du Soleil, for example, is famous for its incredible acrobatic shows.
Aesthetic gymnastics combines parts of the acrobatic and rhythmic styles. Like acrobatic gymnastics, aesthetics are performed in groups.
But instead of balancing each other like a human totem pole or pyramid, aesthetic gymnastic are more like a group rhythmic routine.
It’s very similar to synchronized swimming, where judges are looking to see if the group moves smoothly and simultaneously.
Popular Gymnastic Exercises
Gymnastics may be one of the most popular sports to watch during the Olympics, but what are the most popular moves?
Top 3 Moves for Women
Back Handspring: A back handspring is basically a back flip, but instead of flipping midair, you use your hands to “spring” up off the ground and flip.
This basic move is used to build momentum and power for more difficult moves.
Roundoff: If you can do a cartwheel, you can do a roundoff. But unlike a cartwheel, a roundoff requires you to land on both feet at the same time, not one after the other, and your body twists to face the direction that you came from.
Splits: A split is an exercise in which both legs are stretched completely horizontal to the ground. Gymnastic splits can be performed on the ground or even in midair.
Top 3 Moves for Men
L-Seat: The L-seat is a common rings move, but you don’t need rings to do it – you can use a bar or parallettes.
In a sitting position, lift your legs off the ground and hold them out straight to build abdominal strength.
Handstand: Handstands are another popular exercise for men that builds the muscles in your abdomen.
To do handstand, plant your hands on the ground and swing your legs up so that your feet are pointed straight up. Beginners can practice by leaning against a wall for support.
Pullovers: Pullovers are an essential bar move for men and women alike. A simple pullover is done by grabbing onto a bar and swinging your legs (kept close together) and body up and over the bar.
Pushups are a great way to train yourself to be able to do a pullover.
If you follow the Olympics at all, you’ve probably noticed that most gymnasts are incredibly young – some as young as 16.
But young competitors are nothing unusual. These men and women have been training since they could walk, and their physical ability is at its peak.
Ok, so most children aren’t going to grow up to by Olympic gymnasts, but that doesn’t mean that learning the sport at an early age is a complete waste of time.
In fact, it’s incredibly beneficial – tumbling, balancing, and other gymnastic exercises can improve a child’s gross and fine motor skills, stimulate the brain, and improve their ability to focus.
Because the gymnasium is a social environment, young children also learn important listening and communication skills.
The best gymnastics equipment for kids is whatever is safest. That means bars and beams that are relatively low to the ground, and new wrestling mats that are built to absorb as much shock as possible.
Even for the pros, gymnastics can be a dangerous sport, so it’s important to take all the necessary precautions when teaching young children.
Gymnastics is only second to figure skating when it comes to flashy outfits, but those sparkling leotards aren’t just for show – the tight-fitting fabric allows for maximum flexibility.
Male gymnasts also wear leotards with long or short pants over top of them.
Artistic gymnast’s leotards tend to be more plain and simple than rhythmic gymnast’s leotards, which often adorned with rhinestones, frills, and intricate patterns.
Gymnastic shoes are very similar to ballet shoes in that they’re made of soft, flexible leather, but most athletes choose to simply go barefoot.
Athletes with long hair must keep it tied back in a neat ponytail or bun to keep it out of their face while they practice or perform.
Serious athletes also use chalk to cover their hands and prevent slipping on bars and rings. The chalk absorbs oil and sweat, allowing them to maintain a firm grip throughout their entire routine.
The Growing Popularity of Gymnastics
Athletes like Simone Biles becoming household names is a testament to the growing popularity of gymnastics around the globe.
In the United States alone, over 3 million people are active participants in the sport, and every four years millions more tune in to watch men and women flip, jump, and leap their way to gold in the Olympic Games.
All over the world, one sport that has always been celebrated is gymnastics. Gymnast makes a lot of sacrifices and many have to give up on other dreams just to make it to the top. But getting to the top isn’t easy…
And just in case you’re wondering where the top is, well, it’s the Olympics!
The best gymnasts of all time, have all been Olympians and took away gold, silver and bronze medals. If you love the sport just like we do, join us on a journey down memory lane. Here’s a list of the top 5 male and female gymnasts of all time.
List of 5 Most Decorated Male Gymnasts
1.Nikolai Andrianov – Soviet Union
From: 14 October 1952 – 21 March 2011
Nikolai Andrianov was a record-setting Russian gymnast who took home 15 Olympic medals. This was more than any other male Olympian this was until 2008 when he was overtaken by Michael Phelps with 16 medals.
Andrianov had an amazingly powerful upper body and was known to be very quick on his feet. He was known as the second most decorated male athlete in Olympic history and was particularly strong in ring and floor exercises.
Nikolai Andrianov’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1972 – Men’s Floor Exercise
- 1976 – Men’s Individual All-Round
- 1976 – Men’s Floor Exercise
- 1976 – Men’s Horse Vault
- 1976 – Men’s Rings
- 1980 – Men’s Team All-Round
- 1980 – Men’s Horse Vault
2. Boris Anfiyanovich Shakhlin – Soviet Union
From – 27 January 1932 – 30 May 2008
Boris Shakhlin was born in Ishim, Russia and was coached by Pelageya Danilova and Vasily Porfirev. He had a really successful career with 10 individual titles in the world championships.
He also won gold medals at three different Olympic Games. After gathering 7 gold, 4 silver, and 2 bronze Olympic medals, he was regarded as one of the most-decorated athletes at the Olympic games.
Boris was known for his exceptionally strong and clean lines. His performances were always perfect and he never seemed to make any mistakes.
Boris Shakhlin’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1956 – Men’s Team All-Round
- 1956 – Men’s Pommelled Horse
- 1960 – Men’s Individual All-Round
- 1960 – Men’s Horse Vault
- 1960 – Men’s Parallel Bars
- 1960 – Men’s Pommelled Horse
- 1964 – Men’s Horizontal Bar
3. Takashi Ono – Japan
Born – 26 July 1931
Takashi Ono is a Japanese gymnast who is currently retired. He competed in the Olympics between 1952- 1964 and took home 5 gold, 4 silver, and 4 bronze medals.
He was Japan’s star performer and won the country’s first Olympic gold in gymnastics on the high bar.
Takashi Ono’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1956 – Men’s Horizontal Bar
- 1960 – Men’s Team All-Round
- 1960 – Men’s Horse Vault
- 1960 – Men’s Horizontal Bar
- 1964 – Men’s Team All-Round
4. Sawao Kato – Japan
Born: 11 October 1946
Sawao Kato was born in the Niigata, Japan and liked many sports from a very young age. After his early years, his love for gymnastics grew into a career.
At the 1968 Olympic Games, he was the third gymnast in history to win the Men’s all-around title. Kato led Japan to win its 3rd successive victory in the event.
Sawao Kato’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1968 – Men’s Individual All-Around
- 1968 – Men’s Team All-Around
- 1968 – Men’s Floor Exercise
- 1972 – Men’s Individual All-Around
- 1972 – Men’s Team All-Around
- 1972 – Men’s Parallel Bars
- 1976 – Men’s Team All-Around
- 1976 – Men’s Parallel Bars
5. Aleksei Nemov – Russia
Born: 28 May 1976
Aleksei Nemov is fondly called sexy Alexei from fans and sports commentators. But his chiseled good looks is just part of the story. He won 5 world championships during his career and 12 Olympic medals.
He made his debut at the 1993 World Championships and went on to become one of the most awarded gymnasts of all times.
What made Aleksei stand out was how he combined his daring collection of skills with simple techniques and a matchless style.
Aleksei Nemov’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1996 – Men’s Team All-Around
- 1996 – Men’s Horse Vault
- 2000 – Men’s Individual All-Around
- 2000 – Men’s Horizontal Bar
List of 5 Most Decorated Female Gymnasts
1. Larisa Latynina – Soviet Union
Born: 27 December 1934
Larisa Latynina is an elegant reminder of what athletes looked like in the history of the Olympics. She won 18 Olympic medals and from 1956 to 1964, no one could beat her record.
She competed against �gnes Keleti and beat her to become the most successful gymnast of all time. What many people will also remember her for are her gracefulness and elegance.
Larisa Latynina’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1956 – Women’s Individual All-Around
- 1956 – Women’s Team All-Around
- 1956 – Women’s Floor Exercise
- 1956 – Women’s Horse Vault
- 1960 – Women’s Individual All-Around
- 1960 – Women’s Team All-Around
- 1960 – Women’s Floor Exercise
- 1964 – Women’s Team All-Around
- 1964 – Women’s Floor Exercise
2. Věra Čáslavská – Czechoslovakia
From: 3 May 1942 – 30 August 2016
Vera Caslavska was a national hero to the Czechs until she passed in 2016. She dominated the sport in the 60s and became the only Olympic gymnast to win gold medals in each individual event.
Overall, she won twenty-two international titles from 1962 – 1968. Four of these titles were world championships and eleven were European titles. She also won 7 gold and 3 silver medals in the Olympics.
Věra Čáslavská’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1964 – Women’s Individual All-Around
- 1964 – Women’s Horse Vault
- 1964 – Women’s Balance Beam
- 1968 – Women’s Individual All-Around
- 1968 – Women’s Floor Exercise
- 1968 – Women’s Horse Vault
- 1968 – Women’s Uneven Bars
3. Ágnes Keleti – Hungary
Born: 9 January 1921
Surviving the Nazis and the Communists, Ágnes Keleti was the most successful Jewish female Olympic athlete in history.
With 10 Olympic medals from 3 different games, Keleti is ranked as the 3rd all-time in the women events for the most medals won and 4th all-time as a gold medalist in the Olympics.
Her story is one that has captured the hearts of fans all over the world. Keleti was born in Hungary and began competing in gymnastics at a young age of 4.
But could not participate in the 1940-1944 Olympics because of World War II. She was in hiding during this time and even though many of her family members died at Auschwitz she survived.
Ágnes Keleti’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1952 – Women’s Floor Exercise
- 1956 – Women’s Team Portable Apparatus
- 1956 – Women’s Floor Exercise
- 1956 – Women’s Uneven Bars
- 1956 – Women’s Balance Beam
4. Polina Astakhova – Soviet Union
From: 30 October 1936 – 5 August 2005
Polina Astakhova began her career at the age of 13. For many, this was a late start but she trained vigorously in the local sports club under Vladimir Alieksandrovitch Smirnov.
Later in her career, she was called “The Russian Birch” because of her outstanding gracefulness. In the Olympics of 1960, Astakhova was even referred to as the ‘Madonna’ just because of her elegance and outstanding performance.
In the Olympics of 1964, she contributed to her team’s gold medal by winning on the bars and coming second on the floor and third in the all-around.
Polina Astakhova’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1956 – Women’s Team All-Around
- 1960 – Women’s Team All-Around
- 1960 – Women’s Uneven Bars
- 1964 – Women’s Team All-Around
- 1964 – Women’s Uneven Bars
5. Nadia Comăneci – Romania
12 November 1961
Nadia Comăneci is a Romanian-born gymnast who won 5 gold medals at the Olympics. She was the first gymnast to receive an award for a perfect score of 10.0 at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
Also, at the 1980 Olympic games, she took home two gold medals and recorded two more perfect 10s. Overall, she won 9 Olympic medals and 4 World Artistic Gymnastics Championship medals.
Nadia Comăneci has been credited by many for helping popularize the sport worldwide.
Nadia Comăneci’s Olympic Gold medals:
- 1976 – Women’s Individual All-Around
- 1976 – Women’s Uneven Bars
- 1976 – Women’s Balance Beam
- 1980 – Women’s Floor Exercise
- 1980 – Women’s Balance Beam
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