Gymnastics is an amazing sport that has been around for quite a while. Considering the fact that even today it is a sport that is still changing, it can make you wonder just how long it has been around since it is something that is still being perfected.
Gymnastics was first started in ancient Greece, however that form of gymnastics died out and it was not until the 1800s that the gymnastics that we know today was invented.
However, there is a lot more to the history of gymnastics than that, such as where it started and who invented it and all kinds of other details that it can be quite a bit interesting to know. Gymnastics today is an amazing sport that is divided into four different categories and that has thousands of people who participate in it every year.
The Ancient History Of Gymnastics
As mentioned, gymnastics first started in ancient Greece somewhere around 2500 years ago before it was conquered by the Romans. However, if you were to go back in time to see it then it is very unlikely that you would recognize it because it has changed so much since then.
When it was first started, gymnastics took place in the gymnasiums which were back then central places and which were solely used by men. Nearly every city has their own gymnasium and the men would go there as the main place to hear about what was going on and where.
Not only were these gymnasiums used for things like sports and training, but these places were also used as a place for the philosophers to meet and discuss things like art, poetry, music, geometry, astronomy, logic, and other things.
In those days gymnastics was used as a way to keep fit since the Greeks believed that a man should have a balanced amount of mental and physical exercise in order to be healthy and successful, and this was another reason why both were to be found at the gymnasiums.
Even notable Greek philosophers such as Plato and Homer supported gymnastics, so it was something that was obviously a part of the culture in their time period. Gymnastics at this point in time consisted of tumbling which is still used today, but there were other things like climbing ropes that are not done today. In addition, the things like the bar, balance beam, and vault were not things that were done back then.
As I mentioned, the gymnasiums were something that was solely for men. To explain why this was the case, let me first explain a little bit about how gymnasium and gymnastics got their names. The Greed adjective and its related verb gymnazo both essentially mean to train naked.
This is literally what the Greeks would do in their gymnasiums, both train and compete naked. This is the main reason why women were not allowed in the gymnasiums, even during the Greek’s version of the Olympic competitions.
The Greeks loved tournaments and in Athens they even held the first version of what we today call the Olympic Games and which in those days included gymnastics. There were also other things like running, wrestling, discus throwing, with even some hand to hand fighting.
However, all of that changed when the Romans conquered Greece. When that happened, though they did not put a stop to gymnastics, they did change a few things and used some of the aspects of gymnastics to train their soldiers to make them more physically fit.
By the time the Roman Empire fell, that was mostly all gymnastics was used for. So, when that happened, gymnastics pretty much disappeared and went as extinct as the gladiators which were also of the same time period for a little while longer.
In fact, in 339 A.D. gymnastics was even banned by Emperor Theodosius. Even though it had pretty much ceased being used in order to train soldiers and had started to return to being used as a sport, it was weakening at that point anyway both in how many were doing it and in the quality of the training.
Unfortunately, in the middle ages the Catholic church that was very prominent at that point in history held the opinion back then that the body was wicked and the spirit was all that mattered. Therefore, gymnastics and things like it which might have made a comeback instead declined even more until it was something that most people did not even knew what it was.
Gymnastics Is Officially Invented
After that, gymnastics did not show up again until in the early 1800s. Don Francisco Amorós y Ondeano was a Spanish colonel and one of the first people to introduce gymnastics into training which he did in France.
It was at this point that the word artistic was first paired with gymnastics to help differentiate between the more graceful styles from the training that was used by the military and which was on rare occasions termed gymnastics in some places to compare it to the Roman’s form of training.
The two most memorable people at this point were Johann Gutsmuth and Friedrich Jahn. These two men started making gymnastics apparatus for gymnastics training. Jahn in particular was a German and invented several of the different pieces that are used by gymnastics even today and for this reason he is credited with being one of the founding fathers of gymnastics.
The acclaimed father of gymnastics, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, was also the founder of the Turnverein movement and he is known for his remarkable role in the spread of gymnastic throughout the world. One of which was the initiation of gymnastic competition when he opened an outdoor playground in a field somewhere in the outskirts of Berlin known as Hasesheide, meaning the rabbit field.
According to Ernst Eiselen, Jahn’s assistant, he carefully noted and explained the various exercises that were developed on the playground. The pommel horse was used for vaulting and leg-swinging exercises. Part of his invention included the parallel bars used to increase the upper-body strength of his students and also the erection of immense towers to test their courage.
Horizontal bars, balance beams, climbing ropes, and climbing poles were also part of his inventions that were found at the Turnplatz. In addition to the numerous athletic games, the primitive pole vaulting was also practiced.
The range and variety of challenging apparatus gymnastic apparatus found on the playground caught the attention of young men who shared Jahn’s dream of the unification of the Germans, and his ideas on the defense of his fatherland and ridding Prussia of French influence.
Even though it was mostly a fad, there were a number of schools and athletic clubs that started their own organizations, more so in Europe than anywhere else at first. Then, in the late 1800s, there was a strong push to start up the Olympics again in Athens where they used to be held. The first of the Olympics we have today was started in 1896 and gymnastics was one of the sports that was included in the very first one.
However, at this point gymnastics still did not look anything like what it is today, and it was also still a sport that was solely for men to participate in. Some of the events that were done then and which are no longer a part of gymnastics today are rope climbing, and club swinging, though clubs are something that can be used in rhythmic gymnastics today though not in the same way.
Following the defeat of Napoleon in 1813, the Prussians and the leaders of the surrounding countries became wary of Jahn and his followers and viewed them with suspicion. After the killing of August von Kotzebue by a gymnast, King Frederick William III closed approximately 100 gymnastics centers in Prussia.
In response to that, other member states in Germany followed suit. This further led to the arrest and imprisonment of Jahn. He was restricted to his house for five years. After which he was eventually cleared of all charges.
Due to the circumstances that led to his arrest, he was advised to relocate and settle elsewhere, somewhere preferably far from Berlin, and was placed under an annual stipend. He later settled in in Freiburg, a town without any form of learning institution or gymnasium.
For Jahn, during the time of his incarceration and his release he suffered a lot of loss in his family due to the loss of two out of three of his children and the loss of his wife shortly afterward. For fear of the unknown, three of his followers named Karl Beck, Karl Follen, and Franz Lieber fled to North America, taking the art of gymnastics with them.
The Return Of Gymnastics
The Turners remained in Prussia, though hidden, they endured until King Frederick William IV lifted the ban on gymnastics in the year 1842. As soon as this happened gymnasiums were opened and gymnasts were training to the point that the first German gymnastics festival was held in 1860 in Coburg.
The festival attracted from far and near all sorts of gymnastics enthusiasts, including several Turnverein clubs. It became the first edition of international competition since developing families of Turners outside the German territory were invited and participated in some competitions.
On the other hand, Jahn’s followers had in the late 1820s introduced gymnastics to the Americans. Still, it wasn’t until 1848 when a large number of German nationals migrated to America and established a national union of Turner societies that gymnastics really got a foothold here.
By 1861, the Turners from America and those from the German regions bordering Prussia were amongst those in attendance at the second Turnfest in Berlin. And by 1896, in Athens, eight Turnfests had taken place with the active participation of a growing number of interested countries.
Fast forward to 1881, this was the year the Federation Internationale Gymnastique (FIG) was founded with the aim to supervise international competition and to generalize the rules for all gymnasts. The Olympic Games further promoted an interest in gymnastics, and the FIG World Championships in gymnastics were organized for men in 1903 while that of the women was organized in 1934.
The Olympic Games continued to create a platform on which Gymnastics was promoted. One such avenue was the 1896 Olympic Games, which marked the beginning of actual international, open competition in gymnastics. The tournament featured heavy apparatus similar to that of the German events as well as other things like rope climbing.
Gymnastics competitions were not standardized but not until the 1928 Olympic Games. But during the 1928 Olympic Games, five of the six events presently held in Olympic gymnastics were contested by participants from different countries.
These were: the pommel horse, rings, vaulting, parallel bars, and horizontal bar. These games were characterized with both optional and compulsory routines. Women took the lead by being the first to compete in the Olympic Games of 1928 in similar events as that of the men, except for the addition that brought about the balance beam.
Nowadays, other parts of the world like Africa and Asia have embraced gymnastics and also and have been partaking fully in international games. Since the time of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, when Men’s gymnastics was on the schedule of the list of the Olympic competitions, it has continually been on the Olympic agenda since 1924.
For the women, Olympic gymnastics competition started in the year 1936 with an all-around competition, and in 1952 competition for the separate events was added. In the early days of the Olympic competitions, male gymnasts from Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland dominated the sport, and this was because these countries were where the games were initially developed.
Following the surge in the popularity and acceptance of the game, countries like Japan, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern European countries followed suit in the 1950s. Not only did they get into gymnastics as a sport, but they also began to produce the leading male and female gymnasts.
Because of the laudable performances of Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union in the 1972 Olympics and Nadia Comaneci of Romania in the 1976 Olympics respectively, the popularity of modern gymnastics grew even more. The media coverage of the dramatic and artistic performances of these athletes gave the sport the publicity that it needed in order to help more people to know that the sport of gymnastics existed.
Other countries like the USSR, Japan, East, and West Germany, and other Eastern European nations started to promote gymnastics, particularly for the inclusion of the women gymnasts; these countries also included China and the United States.
The new international competition has six events lined up for the men while the women have four events, respectively. For the men, the events are: the rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, side or pommel-horse, long or vaulting horse, and floor exercise. These events help to develop the upper body strength and overall body flexibility.
While for the women, the events are: the vaulting horse, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise, the last of which is performed with some background music playing. These events combine graceful, dancelike movements with strength, and acrobatic skills. In the United States, tumbling and trampoline exercises are a part of most of the competitions.
In 1972, Nadia Comaneci showed the world that women could do gymnastics just as well, if not entirely better, than men could. She went on to score four perfect tens on the uneven bars as well as two on the balance beam and one for the floor exercise.
Mary Lou Retton was the first gymnast from the U.S. who scored two perfect scores. She did this in her All-Around competition at the 1984 Olympic Games which were held in Los Angeles that year.
For international competitions, the teams are usually made up of six gymnasts each. For the typical team competition, each gymnast team member performs on every piece of equipment and at the end of the meet the team with the highest number of points wins the day.
A separate competition is also organized for the all-around title, this title goes to the gymnast with the highest number of points after performing on each piece of equipment, and there is also a competition to determine the highest score for each individual apparatus.
The rhythmic gymnastics is another type of competitive gymnastics for the women, and this one was included in the Olympic sport since 1984. Routines are usually performed individually or in group performances for up to six gymnasts at a time.
This form of gymnastics does not require an acrobatic skill, but the gymnast is required to have the knowledge and perform graceful and dancelike movements while holding and moving items such as a ball, ribbon, or clubs, with a background music playing.
In 2006, a new points system for Artistic gymnastics was started up to encourage gymnasts to do the harder gymnastics move. This is done with an D Score being the difficulty score and the E Score being the execution score. In order to cap this to some degree, as of 2009 the D Score is based on the top 8 high scoring elements in a routine, excluding the Vault.