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Gymnastics Is A Unique Sport

Gymnastics is a unique sport that combines more than a dozen individual events and pieces of "apparatus."- It's also one of the only sports that let athletes compete as individuals AND as part of a team. When a gymnast is performing, it's a time to shine as an individual; to do his or her best to earn top marks on the vault, the rings, the high bar, and so on. But in the team event, each athlete's scores are added to those of his or her teammates, so doing well is the result of a group effort.

Gymnastic events are scored by judges who subtract points from a base score (usually 9 or 10). The ultimate scores will depend on how difficult the gymnast's routine is, how many errors she or he makes, and the artistry of the presentation. Each apparatus requires slightly different abilities and strengths, but taken as a whole, successful gymnasts have tremendous body strength, strong discipline, great balance and grace, self-confidence, and a positive attitude. Athletes can choose to specialize in one apparatus, or to train for all of them and compete in the all-around competition.

Competitive Artistic gymnastics is the best known of the gymnastic sports. It typically involves the women's events of uneven parallel bars, balance beam, floor exercise, and vault. Men's events include floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar. Gymnastics evolved from exercises used by the ancient Greeks, that included skills for mounting and dismounting a horse, and from circus performance skills. Other gymnastic sports include rhythmic gymnastics, the various trampolining sports, and aerobic and acrobatic gymnastics.

In the vaulting events women gymnasts sprint down an 82 feet runway, jump onto a beatboard or springboard (run/ take-off segment), land momentarily generally inverted on the hands on the vaulting horse or vaulting table (pre flight segment), then spring off of this platform to a two footed landing (post flight segment). Every gymnast starts at a different stop on the vault runway depending on their height and strength. The post flight segment may include one or more multiple saltos or somersaults, and/or twisting movements. Round-off entry vaults are the most common vaults. In vaults with roundoff entries, gymnasts "round-off" so hands are on the runway while the feet land on the springboard (beatboard). From the roundoff position the gymnast travels backwards as in a backhandspring so that the hands land on the vaulting platform (horse). She then blocks off the vaulting platform into various twisting and somersaulting combinations. The post flight segment brings the gymnast to her feet. In 2001, the traditional vaulting horse was replaced with a new apparatus, sometimes known as a tongue or table. The new apparatus is more stable, wider, and longer than the older vaulting horse""approximately 1m in length and 1m in width""gives gymnasts a larger blocking surface, and is therefore safer than the old vaulting horse. With the addition of this new, safer vaulting table, gymnasts are attempting more difficult and dangerous vaults.

On the uneven bars (also known as asymmetric bars, UK), the gymnast performs a routine on two horizontal bars set at different heights. These bars are made of fiberglass covered in wood laminate, to prevent them from breaking. In the past, bars were made of wood, but the bars were prone to breaking, providing an incentive to switch to newer technologies. The width of the bars may be adjusted. Gymnasts perform swinging, circling, transitional, and release moves, that may pass over, under, and between the two bars. Movements may pass through the handstand. Gymnasts often mount the Uneven Bars using a springboard.

The gymnast performs a choreographed routine up to 90 seconds in length consisting of leaps, acrobatic skills, somersaults, turns and dance elements on a padded, and sprung beam. The Balance Beam is 4.10 ft from the ground, 16 ft long, and 3.9 in wide. The event requires, in particular, balance, flexibility and strength.

Male gymnasts also perform on a spring floor. A series of tumbling passes are performed to demonstrate flexibility, strength, and balance. The gymnast must also show strength skills, including circles, scales, and press handstands. Men's floor routines usually have four passes that will total between 60""70 seconds and are performed without music, unlike the women's event. Rules require that male gymnasts touch each corner of the floor at least once during their routine.

A typical pommel horse exercise involves both single leg and double leg work. Single leg skills are generally found in the form of scissors, an element often done on the pommels. Double leg work however, is the main staple of this event. The gymnast swings both legs in a circular motion (clockwise or counterclockwise depending on preference) and performs such skills on all parts of the apparatus. To make the exercise more challenging, gymnasts will often include variations on a typical circling skill by turning (moores and spindles) or by straddling their legs (Flares). Routines end when the gymnast performs a dismount, either by swinging his body over the horse, or landing after a handstand.

The rings are suspended on wire cable from off the floor, and adjusted in height so the gymnast has room to hang freely and swing. He must perform a routine demonstrating balance, strength, power, and dynamic motion while preventing the rings themselves from swinging. At least one static strength move is required, but some gymnasts may include two or three. A routine should have a dismount equal in difficulty to the difficulty of the routine as a whole.

Gymnasts sprint down a runway before hurdling onto a spring board. The body position is maintained while "punching" (blocking using only a shoulder movement) the vaulting platform. The gymnast then rotates to a standing position. In advanced gymnastics, multiple twists and somersaults may be added before landing. Successful vaults depend on the speed of the run, the length of the hurdle, the power the gymnast generates from the legs and shoulder girdle, the kinesthetic awareness in the air, and the speed of rotation in the case of more difficult and complex vaults.

Men perform on two bars slightly further than a shoulder's width apart while executing a series of swings, balances, and releases that require great strength and coordination. A thick steel bar raised above the landing area is all the gymnast has to hold onto as he performs giants (revolutions around the High Bar), release skills, twists, and changes of direction. By using all of the momentum from giants and then releasing at the proper point, enough height can be achieved for spectacular dismounts, such as a triple-back salto. Leather grips are usually used to help maintain a grip on the bar. As with the women, male gymnasts are also judged on all of their events, for their execution, degree of difficulty, and overall presentation skills.

It is not known how, or when gymnastics began. Maybe, the first gymnast was an early human, good at swinging from tree branch to tree branch. Old stone cuttings show that the ancient Egyptians enjoyed building human pyramids, and showing acrobatic activities, around 3000 B.C. About a thousand years later, the Chinese developed a version of gymnastics called Cong Fu.

However, the Greeks , about 2500 years ago, were the first to use gymnastics for fitness and sport. In the Greek city of Athen, gymnastic tournaments were held, including tumbling, rope climbing, and other similar activities. Because of their love for these tournaments, the Atheniens sponsored the ancient Olympic Games. When the Roman's conquered Greece, they discovered that gymnastics was very valuable in their military training. But after the fall of the Roman Empire, gymnastics vanished for centuries.

Gymnastics as we know it today was never part of the ancient Olympic Games. It was regarded as training for other sports, particularly athletics and wrestling, two of the main events of the ancient Games. Of the modern events currently considered to be gymnastics, only tumbling and a primitive form of vaulting were known and practiced in the ancient world.

The sport of modern gymnastics has its roots in Germany in the 1800's. The term "gymnastics" derives from the Greek word "gymnos", meaning naked, and the sport in its modern form evolved during the 19th century. Two styles of gymnastics were in conflict - the Swedish and German systems - with German Frederick-Ludwig Khan introducing parallel bars and the horizontal bar to what had been a floor-based event.

The first international gymnastics competition outside of the Olympics was held in 1903 in Antwerp, Belgium, where gymnasts from Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands competed in what is now considered the first World Championships. At St. Louis in 1904, the men's team combined competition was added to the Olympic program. The U.S. men swept all three team medals.

An interesting side note to the world championships is that in 1922, swimming and track and field events were added to the competition in Antwerp. Soon after this experiment, the sport's leaders agreed that swimming had no business in a gymnastics competition. But at the ninth World Championships in 1930 at Luxembourg, the competition included the pole vault, broad jump, shot put, rope climb and a 100 meter sprint. Track and field did not fully disappear from the World Gymnastics Championships circuit until the 1954 competition.

At the 1924 Games in Paris, the basis of modern Olympic gymnastics competition was firmly established. The athletes began to compete for individual Olympic titles on each apparatus, as well as in combined individual and team exercises. Women's gymnastics was introduced to the Olympics at the Amsterdam games of 1928. The United States women first competed in the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany.

Trampolining and tumbling consists of four events, individual, synchronized, double mini and power tumbling. Since 2000, individual trampoline has been included in the Olympic Games. Individual routines in trampolining involve a build-up phase during which the gymnast jumps repeatedly to achieve height, followed by a sequence of ten leaps without pauses during which the gymnast performs a sequence of aerial skills. Routines are marked out of a maximum score of 10 points. Additional points (with no maximum at the highest levels of competition) can be earned depending on the difficulty of the moves. In high level competitions, there are two preliminary routines, one which has only two moves scored for difficulty and one where the athlete is free to perform any routine. This is followed by a final routine which is optional. Some competitions restart the score from zero for the finals, other add the final score to the preliminary results. Synchronized trampoline is similar except that both competitors must perform the routine together and marks are awarded for synchronicity as well as the form and difficulty of the moves. Double mini trampoline involves a smaller trampoline with a run-up, two moves are performed for preliminaries and two more for finals. Moves cannot be repeated and the scores are marked in a similar manner to individual trampoline. In power tumbling, athletes perform an explosive series of flips and twists down a sprung tumbling track. Scoring is similar to trampolining.



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