The origin of gymnastics dates centuries before Olympics. Acrobats entertained Egyptian royals about 7000 years ago. This can be deduced from the drawings on the ancient frescoes which depict acrobats jumping over the backs of bulls on the island of Crete. In China, ritual mass gymnastics were practiced as part of the art of 'Wushu'.
The word 'gymnastics' is derived from the Greek word 'gymon' which means naked. The reason behind this is that in ancient Greece, the male athletes trained and competed completely nude. The activities included under gymnastics at that point of time included running, jumping, weightlifting, wrestling, throwing, and swimming. The athletes trained and practiced in the 'palestra' which was a square open area that was completely walled and equipped with changing rooms and baths.
The Romans were not far behind and followed the Greeks to a point. The concept of gymnasium came into place where the Roman legions trained themselves. As a matter of fact, the wooden horse was a Roman innovation used to train the soldiers to mount and dismount horses quickly. However, the Romans never looked at gymnastics as a form of sports and also viewed the Greek practice of nudity and gymnastics with great distaste, They believed that it led to the vice of homosexuality.
Then came the fall of the Roman Empire. Fortunately though, acrobatics survived and during the medieval times, the traveling minstrel shows included songs, stories, and a lot of tumbling. Modern gymnastics was brought into picture by Johann GutsMuths from Germany who developed a complete program consisting of exercises that were designed to improve balance and suppleness and also the muscular strength of the body. Johann's follower, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn who was a gymnast teacher by profession, developed apparatuses which are used till date. The apparatuses developed were the high bar, the parallel bar, and the rings.
Gymnastics became popular in Europe primarily as physical training for the military. Over the years, it was limited to the military federations. But in the late 1800s, civil federations were formed across Europe. In 1860 the first gymnastics club, the German Gymnasts club was formed and was the first of its kind. The European Gymnastics Federation was founded on July 23, 1881 and included representatives from Belgium, France, and Netherlands. About 40 years later, this federation became the International Gymnastics Federation and had sixteen members.
Gymnastics has evolved a long way since its origin in Greece. Here is the list of some events that have become very popular over the years and are part of some of the major competitions today:
- Floor Exercises: Here, an entire floor area is used for the event. Multiple saltos, still rings, twists and clear landings are very important in this event. In case of women events, it usually includes a blend of choreographed exercises and music. The personality of the gymnast is exhibited in this event as it calls for total body control with a lot of flair and poise.
- Parallel Bar: The underlying features of this event are the swing and flight. This is one of the most difficult events.
- Balancing Beam: Graceful routines have to be executed on a beam that is just four inches wide.
- Uneven Bars: This event allows a gymnast to display upper body strength, split-second timing, and an aggressive approach. The basis of judgment is continuous fluid movement without any pauses and breaks.
Gymnastics and Olympics
Gymnastics is one events that always has been a part of the Olympics from the start. It was in 1896 when events like rope climbing and club swinging were included. Women began competing in these competitions 1928. They took part in team events. The individual apparatus events were included in the 1952 Olympic Games.
Rhythmic gymnastics were introduced in the year 1984. At the Sydney Games in 2000, Trampolining was added with one event for men, and one for women.