About Artistic Gymnastics
It all started …
…. as, little by little, man managed to free himself from the mundane constraints of his daily routine and devote a small amount of his time to other pursuits, above and beyond those required for his basic survival.
The concept of leisure had not yet become firmly established, but there was already a growing realisation that spiritual well-being could be derived from recreation and, equally, that physical well-being could be achieved through physical exercise. As Roman poet Juvenal put it: "mens sana in corpore sano"; in other words, "in a healthy body, a sound mind."
This concept was further developed in the works of Rabelais, Montaigne, Voltaire, Pestalozzi and, of course, Rousseau, whose philosophical treatise entitled Emile, or On Education explores the nature of human development and extols the virtues of getting closer to nature as a means of achieving well-being in body and mind. It was not only the philosophers and the thinkers who saw the merits of physical exercise; for the military, it became an invaluable tool for training troops.
Among the early pioneers of the gymnastics movement, one name worth mentioning is that of German Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778-1852), who was the first to lay down foundations and a set of rules for group-based exercise. Thus it was that the principles of organised gymnastics were born. Indeed, Jahn is still regarded as the founding father of our sport.
Long before the FIG was established in 1881, various countries had formed their own national gymnastics federations. The first to do so was Switzerland in 1832, followed by Germany (1860), Belgium (1865), Poland (1867), Italy (1869) and France (1873). In 1880, with the Industrial Revolution in full swing in Great Britain, the concept of group gymnastics began to take shape among the working classes as a reaction to the stress and tedium of the production lines. Hence, gymnastics assumed a social significance, serving as a catalyst for integration and also female emancipation.
In 1881, the Belgian Nicolas J. Cupérus founded a movement based on his vision for gymnastics, and in doing so wrote the first pages in the history of the FIG. An idealist by nature, Cupérus eschewed all forms of competition, focusing instead on a gymnastics that was essentially recreational, instructional, and accessible to all. His successor, Frenchman Charles Cazalet, had a different outlook, and organised the first ever international tournaments, thus giving birth to competitive artistic gymnastics.
The first ever gymnastics World Championships took place in 1903, in Cupérus’ home town of Antwerp (BEL), an irony that would not have been lost on the FIG founder, given his staunch opposition to all forms of competition.
The modern era
The 1903 World Championships, which ended in triumph for France, were a strictly men-only affair. The FIG proved itself to be extremely conservative in this regard, and it was not until 1934 that it sanctioned the participation of women in its competitions. The International Olympic Committee showed itself to be more progressive, inviting female gymnasts to take part in the Olympic Games for the first time in 1928.
Thereafter gymnastics, and in particular the disciplines of men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics, started to become more structured. The year 1932 saw the first meeting of the International Technical Committee, which in 1947 became the Technical Assembly. Then in 1949, future FIG President Arthur Gander (SUI) penned the first Code de Points for men’s gymnastics. It was all of 12 pages long; the 2013 equivalent runs to 164!
Initially limited to the floor exercise, artistic gymnastics gradually began introducing new pieces of equipment. The Pommel Horse was one of the first of the new apparatus to be incorporated. The Horizontal Bar, the Parallel Bars and the Rings were added to the competition programme soon after. Other pieces of apparatus and competitions were phased out or integrated into other disciplines. The long jump and the high jump, for example, were both included as separate events in the athletics programme at the inaugural Olympic Games in 1896.
At the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki (FIN), artistic gymnastics adopted the format we know today, comprising six pieces of apparatus for the men and four for the women. Since then, there has only been one further significant modification to the format, with the new vaulting table replacing the old vaulting horse at the 2001 World Championships in Ghent (BEL).
The 1936 Olympic Games marked a turning point in the development of gymnastics insofar as it abandoned its focus on shows of physical prowess and synchronised group routines mainly comprised of European athletes. Instead, it gave centre stage to individual gymnasts, with the performances of Alfred Schwarzmann (GER) and Eugen Mack (SUI) stealing the show.
The 1952 Games heralded a revolution in gymnastics. The USSR stunned the world with their "scientific" school of gymnastics, with Viktor Chukarin, Hrant Shahinyan and Larisa Latynina sweeping away all of their rivals.
In 1960 and 1964 it was Japan’s turn to dominate, with Takashi Ono and Yukio Endo overshadowing a pair of fabulous Soviet gymnasts, Boris Chaklin and future FIG President Yuri Titov.
Artistic gymnastics has always had its icons, athletes whose names are permanently etched into the history of their disciplines. They include, of course, that elite band of stars who have achieved the holy grail for artistic gymnasts: a perfect 10 in Olympic competition. These stars include Nadia Comaneci (ROU), Nellie Kim (URS) and Alexander Dityatin (URS).
As Comaneci, Kim and Dityatin were thrilling audiences around the world during the 1970s, artistic gymnastics was firmly establishing itself on the international sporting map. It has continued to enjoy spectacular progress, to the extent that at the 2012 Olympics in London, artistic gymnastics was the second most watched event, and possesses a global popularity alongside the likes of swimming, basketball and football.
|Artistic Gymnastics official pictogram|
|Men's Artistic Gymnastics official pictogram|
Updated October 2016
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