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Men's Artistic Gymnastics

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Men's Artistic Gymnastics

Vitaly Scherbo on the high bar

© 2008 Steve Lange

Men’s artistic gymnastics is the oldest form of gymnastics, and the second most popular type of gymnastics in the United States. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) estimates that about 1.3 million males participate in gymnastics. Approximately 12,000 men and boys compete in the US Junior Olympic program, while others participate in AAU, YMCA and other organizations.

History of Men’s Artistic Gymnastics

The first major competition in men's gymnastics was the 1896 Athens Olympics. Gymnasts from five countries participated in the individual events of pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar. German gymnasts won nine of the 15 medals awarded.

The first World Championships took place in 1903 in Antwerp, Belgium. Team and all-around competitions were added during this time. At the 1930 World Championships in Luxembourg, pole vault, broad jump, shot put, rope climb and a 100-meter sprint were all included as events.

These events were phased out in 1954, however, and since then, the only events competed at worlds have been the six traditional men's apparatus (floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar), the all-around and team competition. Not all World Championships have included each type of competition, however. (For example, the 2005 worlds only had competition on each individual apparatus and in the all-around).

The Participants

Men’s artistic gymnastics has only male participants. Boys start young, though usually not as young as in women’s artistic. Male gymnasts find it difficult to develop the strength required until they’ve reached puberty, so elite male gymnasts are typically in their late teens to mid-20s. A gymnast becomes age-eligible for the Olympic Games on January 1st of his 16th year. (For example, a gymnast born Dec. 31, 2000 is age eligible for the 2016 Olympics).

Athletic Requirements

Top artistic gymnasts must have many qualities: strength, air sense, power, balance, and flexibility are some of the most important. They must also have psychological attributes such as the ability to compete under pressure, the courage to attempt risky skills, and the discipline and work ethic to practice the same routine many times.

The Events

Male artistic gymnasts compete in six events:

  • Floor Exercise: The gymnast performs a routine no longer than 70 seconds, usually consisting of four or five tumbling passes, a balance element or strength move, and sometimes circles and flairs similar to those seen on the pommel horse. The floor mat is 40 ft. by 40 ft. and is usually made of carpeting over padded foam and springs.

  • Pommel Horse: The gymnast swings around the pommel horse on his hands, without letting any other part of his body touch the horse and without stopping during the routine. He uses the whole length of the horse, and performs circles, flairs, scissors, moves up to handstand and back down, and a dismount.

  • Still Rings: The gymnast completes swinging moves, handstands, strength moves, and a dismount on rings suspended approximately 9 ft. from the ground. Unlike the pommel horse, a gymnast must stop and hold his strength moves for at least two seconds. During this time, the rings should be as still as possible.

  • Vault: The gymnast runs down a runway, hurdles onto a springboard, and is propelled over a vaulting “table” about 4 feet off the ground.

  • Parallel Bars: The gymnast performs swings, release moves, pirouettes, and a dismount using two horizontal bars set at the same height. The bars are about 6.4 ft. from the floor and made of wood or plastic.

  • High Bar: The gymnast performs pirouettes, high-flying release moves, swings, and a dismount on a single bar, 9 ft. off the floor. The bar is smaller in diameter than the parallel bars, and is made of metal.


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