What is gymnastics?
Gymnastics is a sport, in which athletes (called gymnasts), perform acrobatic feats -- leaps, flips, turns, handstands, and more -- on a piece of apparatus, such as a balance beam, or with a piece of apparatus, like a rope or ribbon.
The formal definition of gymnastics, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is "a competitive sport in which individuals perform optional and prescribed acrobatic feats mostly on special apparatus in order to demonstrate strength, balance, and body control."
What are the different types of gymnastics?
There are three types of gymnastics currently in the Olympics: artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and trampoline. Artistic gymnastics is the most commonly-known type. Men and women both compete, on equipment like the uneven bars, parallel bars, and rings. (Read more on women's artistic gymnastics, and on men's artistic gymnastics.)
Rhythmic gymnastics is probably the second best-known. In rhythmic, gymnasts all compete on the same floor mat, but use ribbons, ropes, hoops, and other equipment as part of their routines. (Get more info on rhythmic gymnastics.)
Trampoline was named an Olympic discipline of gymnastics for the 2000 Olympics. Gymnasts perform routines on a trampoline, completing flips on every single bounce. (More on trampoline.)
Other types of gymnastics not currently on the Olympic roster include tumbling, acrobatic gymnastics, and group gymnastics. (Get more info on tumbling, acrobatic, and group.)
What are the gymnastics events?
When people ask this they are usually referring to artistic gymnastics apparatus. For women, this includes the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. (More on women's gymnastics events.) For men, it's floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar. (More on men's gymnastics events.)
When did gymnastics become a sport?
Gymnastics can trace its roots all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and has been included in the Olympics since the first modern Games in 1896. The earliest Olympic competitions most closely align with today's men's artistic gymnastics: all participants were male, and competed on events like parallel bars and high bars, though the rope climb was an event then (and is no longer one). Find out much more about gymnastics history.
Which are the best gymnastics teams?
In artistic gymnastics, the Soviet Union and Japan (on the men's side) dominated the second half of the 20th century. More recently, the United States, Russia, China, Romania, and Japan have been the top teams in artistic gymnastics. In rhythmic gymnastics, Russia, and other former Soviet countries like Belarus and Ukraine, have won the most Olympic medals. The youngest Olympic discipline, trampoline, has had a diverse group of Olympic medalists, from Russia to China and Canada. (See all of the Olympic medalists in gymnastics.)
Which are the biggest gymnastics competitions?
The Olympics is the ultimate gymnastics meet, and many young gymnasts set their sights on making the Olympic gymnastics team. The Olympics are held every four years, and artistic gymnastics teams will have five members, starting at the 2012 Games in London. (The teams used to have six members through the 2008 Games, and had seven through the 1996 Games).
World Championships are the second biggest competition in gymnastics, and in recent years have been held every non-Olympic year. (In the '90s, there were two worlds in 1994, one for teams and one for individuals, as well as a worlds in 1996, the Olympic year. Worlds has sometimes been held every two years, too.)
Other major competitions include the European Championships, the Asian Games, the Pan American Games, and World Cup meets.