Artistic Gymnastics and the Olympic Games


Artistic Gymnastics, known in Brazil as ‘Olympic Gymnastics’, is a sport that requires utter mastery of one’s own body. It combines systematic exercises with strength, agility and flexibility. Artistic Gymnastics originated in Ancient Greece, however, the first official competition was only held in 1896 (at that year’s Athens Olympics), when Germany took the Gold Medal, Greece took Silver and Switzerland Bronze. The inaugural female edition took place at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, and was won by the hosts.

The FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) is the entity responsible for creating and controlling all official competitions in Artistic Gymnastics; the categories are male, female and team. Men can compete in the Horizontal Bar, Parallel Bars, Pommel Horse, Vault, Rings or Floor Exercises; whilst women compete in either Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam or Floor Exercises (performed to music which must be suited to the Gymnast’s personality, and the presentation should last between 70 and 90 seconds). Performances are given points by a panel of judges who take into account not only the inherent difficulty of the moves, but also a number of other components.

The most successful nations along the history of Artistic Gymnastics at the Olympics are: the USSR / Russia (with Larissa Latynina, holder of 19 Medals – nine Golds, five Silvers and four Bronzes; Japan (with Takashi Ono – eight World Championship Medals and thirteen from the Olympics, of which four are Golds – he also has the honour of being the first individual Japanese athlete to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics); the USA (with Kim Zmeskal winning their first World Title in 1991, and Shannon Miller, five times medallist, holder of seven Olympic Medals and nine from the World Championships, considered the most successful Gymnast of her modality, having won more medals than anyone else); Germany (with Alfred Schwarzmann, 1936 Olympic Champion, and Konrad Frey – Golds in the Horizontal Bar and the Pommel Horse). In the team category, Germany has two Olympic Titles: one female and one male; as does Romania (with Nadia Comaneci, the first ever female Gymnast to receive a 10 at the Olympics – during the 1976 Montreal Games, but going on to repeat the feat on an astonishing 30 separate occasions along her career).


Up until 2011, Brazil had a gradually improving success rate in the sport, and won nine World Championship Medals, three of each colour. Diego Hypólito and Diane dos Santos were the highlights of this period. Diane was the great Brazilian hope going into Athens 2004, where she reached the final and eventually placed in fifth. She was the first ever Gymnast to perform the so-called ‘Twist Carpado’, which is now known simply as the ‘Dos Santos’ in her honour. Another Brazilian success at the time was Jade Barbosa.

Diego Hypólito arrived at the 2008 Beijing Games as favourite for Gold in the Floor Exercises, however, a fall in his last move meant that he ended up in sixth. Unfortunately, Diego suffered another fall at the London 2012 Olympics, once more missing out on the podium. On the other hand, rookie Gymnast Arthur Zanetti faced off against the Chinese Yibing Chen and overcame the odds to take the Gold Medal, racking up a spectacular 15,900 points from the judges.

Team GB can be proud of its high quality roster of athletes. On the male team there is Louis Smith, an expert on the Pommel Horse. Louis took part in his first World Championships in 2007, in Stuttgart, where he managed Bronze – this result qualified him for the Beijing Games, where he once more took Bronze. As for the women, one of Great Britain’s strongest Gymnasts is Elizabeth Kimberly Tweddle, originally from South Africa, but having lived in the UK since the age of 18 months. She started Artistic Gymnastics when she was seven years old, at a local club, and in 2001 she won her first National Championship, going on to take her first European Championship Gold in 2006, in the Uneven Bars.

More facts about Artistic Gymnastics

Gymnastics is generally separated into two modalities: Artistic and Rhythmic – which was introduced to the Olympic Games format in 1984 and in which only women compete. It is a discipline which combines body movements and choreography with the manipulation of small pieces of apparatus, such as ropes, balls and ribbons.

The famous image of both arms raised above the head, chin up, chest out and a slight lordotic posture is the classic female gymnastic position. The male version can be done with only one arm raised, or both held down by the thighs, whilst holding a curved position with the back.

These classic postures are made towards the Chief judge, as well as to the apparatus, at the beginning and end of a series of movements or a jump. The male posture can be made in such a way that the Gymnast appears to be formally greeting the Chief judge or paying his respects to the apparatus.

Speaking of apparatus, until the Atlanta Games, in 1996, the Pommel Horse was still used for Vaulting, but taking into account safety considerations, the modern Vaulting apparatus was developed. Thanks to its design, which has a bigger surface area, it is safer than the Pommel Horse, especially concerning jumps for which Gymnasts set off with their backs to the apparatus, whilst simultaneously providing athletes with more propulsion. This evolution has led to a marked increase in technically difficult jumps.

On the Balance Beam, athletes must execute their performance in 70 to 90 seconds, and are permitted 10 seconds to return to the Beam if they fall off. Performance elements are: entrances, full turns, acrobatic elements in different directions and dismounts.

The Floor Exercise takes place on a platform marked out by white strips, including a safety zone, which, if stepped in by the Gymnast, results in a points deduction. There is a boundary judge who has the responsibility of making this observation. Usually, more than three acrobatic sequences are presented in modern floor series.

Springboards help Gymnasts with their jumps, vaults and entrances onto apparatus such as the Balance Beam and Parallel Bars, and current day models are tuned to provide maximum propulsion. Springboards are not used in conjunction with Floor Exercises at competition level. They can be placed at any distance from the apparatus, according to the athlete’s discretion. Generally, each performer measures the distance the board is to be placed from the apparatus with their own feet, then use tape as a visual place marker for the stewards.

As for that white powder you will have seen if you have ever watched any Gymnastics event, its function is to increase grip and lessen the sensation of slipping experienced by the athletes, and is of particular use for those who sweat through their hands and feet more than others. The powder – Magnesium Carbonate – is to be used in moderation, especially on the Balance Beam and Floor (on these apparatuses a small mark is placed to show the Gymnast where they need to be at the most difficult and key moments of their routine). Inappropriate use is considered to be a minor infraction, and results in a 0,1 point deduction. The mixture needs to be absolutely perfect – not too slippery and not too dry. As per the Goldilocks principle!

To find out more about Artistic Gymnastics:

World Artistic Gymnastics Championships

Source: Brazilian Olympic Committee


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