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Evolution of Sport – Gymnastics

From Ancient Greece to the modern-day Olympics, gymnastics has been holding onto the hearts of the masses for millennia. This high-energy sport focuses on both the body and the mind, and is, in today’s world, considered a serious spectator sport. As time has gone by, gymnastics has evolved and experienced many changes in style, equipment, and even fashion. Let’s take a look at some of those changes:

The Evolution of Gymnastics

Ancient Greece

Gymnastics was originally created to aid Greek soldiers in their preparations for war. It was held as a mandatory part of Greek education, and eventually found its way to the United States where it was adopted for military training in the early 19th century.

19th Century

In the late 18th and early 19th century, the “grandfather of gymnastics”, Johann Friedrich Guts Muth and the “father of gymnastics”, Freidrich Ludwig Jahn of Germany were credited respectively for developing the defining principles of natural and artistic gymnastics. They also designed some of the more notable styles and apparatuses for the sport, including: the parallel bars, the rings, the balance beam, the horse, and the horizontal bar.

In 1891, the International Gymnastics Federation was formed to supervise international competition, and was followed shortly after by inclusion of gymnastics in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

20th Century

During the 20th century, gymnastics fell to the wayside in military training in lieu of weapons and technology training. It was during this time that the sport began to stand alone and build up additional notoriety as an “everyman’s sport.”

Women joined the ranks in the Olympic Games and first competed in the Olympics in 1928, and floor exercises were added to routines in 1932. In 1954, the sport was standardized and given clear definition for women and men. In 1972, Olga Korbut helped elevate women’s gymnastics from a focus on grace to include strength and power in competition scoring. Soon after, in 1976, Nadia Comaneci earned the first perfect 10.

In the 1990s, the International Federation of Gymnastics overhauled the scoring system, making a score of 10 more difficult, and therefore assisting in the differentiation between a good score, and a great one.

21st Century

In the 2000s, scoring changed again amidst Olympic controversy, and the scoring system was replaced with a more accurate and complex judging procedure. In modern gymnastics competitions, there are six men’s events and four women’s events scored. Men perform a floor routine, the pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and the horizontal bar, while women tackle the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and a floor routine.  Ever competitive and engaging, these events remain some of the most popular attractions of the Summer Olympic Games.

gymnastics timeline

The Evolution of Gymnastics Style in the United States

Back in the days of Nadia Comaneci, the gymnastics leotard was a fairly plain garb. During the days of Kerri Strug in 1996, the more common ponytail was replaced with short hairdos. Between 1992 and 1996, scrunchies were adopted by the USA team, setting them apart from their competitors. In 2004, leotards began to evolve into more eye-catching fashions, to include changes in fabrics and colors, and added sparkle. In 2008, the leotards reverted to a more conventional single color with a modest sprinkle of crystals. In 2012, the United States presented a gymnastics team with a leotard fashion that broke ground. Made out of a material called Mystique, these outfits generated quite a buzz with their shine and sparkle. We can only surmise that future leotards will follow this trend and the 2016 games will be more brilliant than ever.

The Evolution of Gymnastics Equipment

Gymnastics equipment has become more advanced the as time has passed, evolving from inflexible wood and narrow beams to bouncier and more forgiving materials.

  • Pommel Horse – The pommel horse was originally used to practice — you guessed it — mounting and dismounting horses. Originally invented by the Romans for this purpose, it has evolved over time from a simple wooden block to a metal, rounded mount covered with foam and leather.
  • Vaulting Table – The vaulting table has experienced a dramatic change in recent years. Sprung from a number of accidents between 1980 and 1990, the original vaulting horse was exchanged for a new vaulting table, which is now the standard for both men and women’s gymnastics.
  • Rings – Rings were invented in the early 1800s, and have experienced a number of changes in their construction, including renditions in iron, rubber, and wood. In today’s competitions, rings are typically made of wood.
  • Bars – Bars were originally fixed wooden rails. Today’s bars look much different, evolving into flexible, adjustable rails that offer more shock absorbing qualities, along with bounce that helps gymnasts achieve higher heights.
  • Balance Beam – The balance beam was late on the scene, not arriving to the Word Championships until 1934. Originally narrower and measuring only 8 cm wide, it was eventually widened to 10 cm. As somersaults and handsprings began to be incorporated into routines, the balance beam was reconstructed to increase elasticity and ensure safety and stability. Today’s beam is also padded and cushioned to help prevent injury.
  • Floors – Floor routines have more bounce these days thanks to improved flooring materials, with springier springs, and cushier landings.

New Technologies and Their Impact

Along with enhancements to the standard equipment, today’s coaches and athletes have the benefit of modern computer technology and other devices that can help athletes take an objective view of their performance.

With motion sensors and apps like Blast Athletic Performance that allow athletes to review and sort their routine video highlight reels, they can learn and improve by watching and re-watching their performance at regular speed or in slow motion for even greater detail. State-of-the-art software and wearable tech can also identify actions and review metrics such as height, acceleration, rotation, and more, giving users a never-before-seen inside look at their every motion.

New medical equipment such as MRI machines can also help coaches and athletes detect injury faster; and braces and medications lead to faster healing times and less chance of re-injury.

Gymnastics has come a long way from its Greek roots, but the essentials remain the same. Each routine requires an exceptional amount of balance, flexibility, style, strength, and control. With an origin that greatly differs from the well-known and popular spectator sport of today, gymnastics has benefitted over the years from advancements in adaptive technology, evolving fashions, equipment updates, and a sustained enthusiasm.

For more information about how technology can be used to enhance your athletics, take a look at our Wearing and Sharing Infographic.