Gymnastics is a genre of sports where men and women compete both as individuals and as teams for medals and recognition based on their ability to perform tricks on and with a variety of apparatus. When people use the term "gymnastics", they most likely mean artistic gymnastics, where athlete is performing on an apparatus as opposed to with an apparatus.

Forms of Gymnastics

There are at least five different forms of gymnastics:

Women's Artistic Gymnastics where women compete on the floor exercise, the balance beam, the uneven bars and the vault.

Men's Artistic Gymnastics where men compete on the high bar, the parallel bars, the floor exercise, the rings, the pommel horse and the vault.

Women's Rhythmic Gymnastics where women compete on a floor exercise while throwing a ball, ribbon, hoop, rope or clubs.

Tumbling and Trampoline where both men and women use a trampoline to propel themselves upwards and perform complex flips to accumulate points.

Sports Acrobatics where men and women compete together on the same floor exercise propelling each other through the air as opposed to an apparatus.

Other sports overlap gymnastics, including skip rope and cheerleading, and several sports use gymnastics as a foundation, including diving.

The apparatus used in Artistic Gymnastics has changed over the years. A swinging rings apparatus was once part of the women's Olympic program, and the vault design has been recently changed from a basic pommel horse without the pommels to a wide lipped table.


Ancient Greece

Gymnastics has its origins in Ancient Greece, when men would gather at gymnasiums to learn about literature, rhetoric and art, as well as physical education. The ancient Greeks believed that a man should strive to perfect three qualities; the mental, physical and social qualities in order to become perfect. Aristotle, Homer and Plato encouraged the learning of gymnastics as it harmonized the mental and physical selves in the same activity.

Gymnastics during this period more resembled track and field, and were in fact competed together until the modern Olympic Games. Gymnastic activities included club swinging, tumbling and rope climbing and vaulting over live bulls.

The first Olympic Games were not competed in the nude, but the cumbersome togas hindered atheletic performance. During one of the early Olympic Games a runner lost his tunic while running, but won the race because of it. From that point onward, athletes began to compete naked at the Olympics in increasing numbers. Eventually, all athletes competing had to compete "gymnos", in the nude.

Near the end of the Roman Empire, Christianity and financial corruption both contributed to the downfall of the Olympic Games and the abolition of gymnastics by Emperor Theodosianus in 393 AD. Christians did not approve of the Games because of the nudity involved, and once Christianity swept through Europe at the beginning of the Dark Ages, it was not seen again until the Renaissance.

Modern Gymnastics

The precursors of modern gymnastics were born in Germany by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. His outdoor gymnasium was built in 1812 in a Berlin park and included wooden horses with pommels, ladders, and parallel bars. Wrestling, spinning while perched on a stick and tumbling were common activities at his gym.

Jahn was heavily involved in politics, and when he was jailed in 1819 for his activities, his outdoor gymnasium was burned down. His students established secret indoor gymnasiums and made the equipment smaller, portable and easy to quickly disassemble and hide. Some of his students emmigrated to the United States and started "Turn Clubs" for the German word for gymnastics.

In 1821 a Swede named Peter Ling developed a version of gymnastics specifically for organizing military troops. A leader would shout out instructions and followers would carry out the physical instructions en masse. Swedish gymnastics resembled the modern marching drill that Army and Air Cadets do today, but was based more on graceful movement than on organizing a platoon or squadron.

The Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) was formed in 1881, and gymnastics was one of the first sports to be included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. The routines were performed outside, and many of them barely resemble gymnastic routines performed today. The men's floor exercise was performed much like Ling's Swedish gymnastics. Pole vaulting, shot put, rope climbing and rappeling a greased pole were some other activities performed until track and field was established as a separate group of sports in 1930.

Women in Gymnastics

Women first demonstrated gymnastics at the 1908 Olympic Games, but were not allowed to compete until 1932. The first indoor competitions were held in 1948, and first televised in 1960. The original routines had to be done in appropriately unrevealing dress.

During the 1950's and 1960's, women's gymnastics was dominated by Larissa Latynina of the Soviet Union and Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia. Latynina had her peak in her mid-twenties and became one of the the few gymnasts of any time to hold a World title as a mother. Caslavska peaked a little while after Latynina in her very early twenties.

In 1972, a young Russian named Olga Korbut became the first "star" of the gymnastics world. Even though she only won bronze in the all-around, her open display of emotions endeared her to the audience in the arena and on the television screen. The pattern of gymnasts decreasing competitive age was established, but not wholly by accident...

In the small mining town of Onesti, Romania, Nadia Comaneci began training with Marta and Bela Karolyi, who were starting a women's gymnastics program based more on strength than on graceful movement, and hoping to convince the local government that more medals could be won by starting girls' training earlier. A panache for dramatization and publicity enabled the Karolyi's to one-up Korbut's bubbly smile with the harsher, more militaristic style of the Romanian team that oddly turned on the charm when up close on camera. Nadia's intensive training paid off with the Olympic title and seven perfect 10's, a record not likely to be beaten (see The Code of Points).

General Format of an Artistic Gymnastics Competition

The common format of a gymnastics competition emerged during the 1970's; an initial compulsory competition is held where each gymnast performs the same routine to give the judges an idea of what to expect throughout the competition. Because of the very subjective manner in which routines are judged, the judges need some idea of how score later on. The best gymnasts are then selected from the compulsories to move on to the optionals, where the gymnast can choose her own routine. In recent years, compulsories have been removed from the Worlds and Olympics, but competitions for younger gymnasts are almost exclusively compulsory; that is the vault types, floor exercise music are decided upon long before-hand.

During the optionals, a gymnast uses her own floor exercise music and has one chance to obtain her score on the floor, uneven bars and balance beam. The exception is the vault, where a gymnast has to choose two different vaults from two different families, and hence has two chances to score. Those scores are then averaged and then added together. The gymnasts are then ranked on five different scales, one for the all-around in which gymnasts compete on all four apparatuses and four others for the event finals. To prevent one country, like Romania or Russia, from dominating the field, only three gymnasts per country can advance to the all-around and only two to each apparatus final. 36 gymnasts are selected for the all-around and eight for each final.

Judging the Judges

While gymnasts are judged on a scale from 1 to 10, judges are also judged to ensure fairness of judging. Penalties for judges come in the form of reprimand letters; get enough letters and a judge can be barred from judging for one year and/or be forced to re-take the standard judging tests.

In early competitions up until the mid-80's, judges would measure a gymnast's performance holistically; they would guess how that girl's routine would fair in comparison to the rest of the field's. So a gymnast starting out a competition would be scored low and subsequent girl's routines scored in comparison to that initial routine. The net result is that scores at the the beginning of the competition would be judged low and later routines judged high. Comparing the scores of gymnasts between competitions is nearly impossible under this scheme.

Various systems have been used to determine whether a judge is "fair". One such system penalized judges based on whether they scored the highest or lowest on any routine. The effect was opposite of what was intended; soon judges were accused of "bunching", or purposely discussing routines beforehand and then giving a gymnast a pre-determined score, barring any obvious falls or mistakes. This would prevent any one judge from being singled out for scoring too high or too low. Bunching combined with holistic scoring gave rise to the age when 10's were handed out like so many chocolate bars on Halloween.

The Code of Points

By the late 70's judges had identified that individual elements in a routine had different difficulties, and assigned them a letter from A to D based on this. Eventually E's and "super-E"'s were added as more difficult moves were invented. These letters guided the range of scores a judge could give a movement and each individual movement was eventually given a numeric value. This combined with a shorthand allowed judges to record an entire gymnast's routine quickly and add bonuses for connecting moves into a larger, fluid move and take deductions for improper form.

The attempted moves in a routine are combined to give the routine a start value, or SV from 0 to 10. Artistry accounts for 0.5 of the score and is completely subjective. Add connection bonuses and the SV can go up to 10.3 (or more). A fall onto or completely off an apparatus is worth a 0.5 deduction and a hesitation in a connection voids any bonus that can be given for it. If a gymnast falls off she has 30 seconds to get back on and may reattempt a previous connected move at the risk of losing another deduction.

Judges round their scores to the nearest tenth, the highest and lowest scores are discarded and then averaged to the nearest hundredth to arrive at the final score for a routine. The head judge has veto power, the ability to adjust that score at any point before the final scores are listed.

The Code of Points gives judges the ability to devalue certain moves and families of moves and determine what style of gymnastics, graceful or powerful will be performed. Currently the Code favors power over grace.

The 2006 Code of Points

In 2006, FIG announced a number of modifications to the Women's Code of Points in response to controversies surrounding men's competitions in 2004. This new code has been met with much controversy amongst fans, many of whom claim that the abolishing of the "10.0" will result in more confusion amongst more casual fans and less excitement over acheiving a 10.0 score, that the changes are not required as they respond to events that did not happen in women's gymnastics, and that finally, the new code is a gimmick designed to somehow benefit the current president of FIG Bruno Grandi.

A routine in the women's new Code of Points is split into 2 components: the D-score, which is further borken up into DV (Difficulty Value), CV (Connection Value) and EGR (Element Group Requirements) and an E-score which evaluates the artistry of the routine. The final score of a gymnast's routine is the sum of the D and E scores.

The D-Score

The D-Score = DV + CV + EGR, which are described below:

The DV or Difficulty Value is the sum of individual elements performed by a gymnast with no reference to any connections. "Super-E" elements no longer exist and have been replaced by "F" and "G" elements. The values of each difficulty are: A = 0.1, B = 0.2, C = 0.3, D = 0.4, E = 0.5, F = 0.6, G = 0.7. So a sequence of elements ABCDEFG would hypothetically have a DV value of 0.1 + 0.2 + 0.3 + 0.4 + 0.5 + 0.6 + 0.7 = 2.8.

The CV or Connection Value is calculated from those sequences of moves which a gymnast performs fluidly and without pause, break or falling. It is calculated in the same manner as the old Code of Points, with the exception that new bonuses are awarded for connections involving F or G elements. Not all combinations of elements have a connection value associated with them. For a further discussion of the calculation of connection bonuses, see uneven parallel bars.

The EGR or Element Group Requirements is a new component to a gymnast's score. 5 elements are chosen from different families of movements for the balance beam, uneven bars and floor exercise, which the gymnast must incorporate into the routine. For each required element that the gymnast successfully performs a score of 0.5 is added to the EGR. The maximum score for the EGR is 2.5 (for all 5 requirements performed), and the elements included in a routine count for both the EGR and DV.

Some competitions, particularily for younger gymnasts like HOPE, change the values of EGR's to allow the gymnasts to perform only 4 EGR's and still obtain a 2.5 by emphasizing certain skills at 0.75. Also, if an EGR is performed with a fault, but it is the only element satisfying the EGR, a judge may choose to decuct DV and CV and award the EGR or vice versa, but must choose one of the alternatives. This means that a gymnast can potentially loose more connection bonuses if the judge opts to award an EGR for a faulted element.

The combined effect of each score component is that a gymnast can now attain an effective start value (though it is no longer referred to as such) over 10.0 on a routine, much like the scores tabulated for trampoline.

The E-Score

The E-Score is a subjective evaluation decided upon by a judge. It is given an initial value of 10.0, and for every mistake, pause, fall, etc a gymnast makes, scores are deducted from this value. Mistakes not only affect the E-score but may also break connection bonuses. Falls deduct 0.8, as opposed to 0.5 in the old code (which was deducted form the gymnast's final score once connection bonuses and difficulty were evaluated).

The Vault

In the 2006 code, vaults are performed only once, hence scores are no longer averaged over 2 vaults. A D-Score on the vault is it's assigned DV and no EGR or CV is awarded. The new rules state that a gymnast may not be spotted (touched) but must touch the vaulting horse and mat during Yurchenko vaults to receive a score.