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Women's Artistic Gymnastics

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Women's Artistic Gymnastics

The gymnast in the foreground is performing on the balance beam, while the gymnast in the background competes on the uneven bars. These are two of the four events in women's artistic gymnastics.

© 2007 iStockphoto.com/Galina Barskaya

Women’s artistic gymnastics is the most popular form of gymnastics in the United States. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), there are approximately 4.5 million artistic gymnasts in the United States, and 71% of them are female. Of those girls and women, approximately 67,000 compete in the US Junior Olympic program, while others participate in AAU, YMCA or other programs.

 

The History

The first women competed in artistic gymnastics in the 1928 Olympics. The sport was very different than it is today, however: there was only a team event. At the 1950 world championships, women’s artistic gymnastics debuted in its present form, with competition in team, all-around and the individual events.

 

The Participants

As the name conveys, women’s artistic gymnastics has all-female participants. Gymnasts often start very young, and begin to compete at the lowest levels at about age six. Currently, a gymnast becomes age-eligible for the Olympic Games on January 1st of her 16th year. (For example, a gymnast born Dec. 31, 1996 was age eligible for the 2012 Olympics). Elite gymnasts vary in age, however, and many gymnasts are now competing into their 20s and sometimes even their early 30s.

 

Athletic Requirements

Top artistic gymnasts must have many different attributes: strength, balance, flexibility, air sense and grace are some of the most important. They also must possess psychological qualities such as the courage to attempt difficult tricks and to compete under intense pressure, and the discipline and work ethic to practice a routine many times.

 

The Events

  Female artistic gymnasts compete in four events:

  • Vault: The gymnast runs down a runway, jumps onto a springboard, and is propelled over a vaulting “table” about 4 ft. off the ground.
     
  • Uneven Bars: The gymnast performs swings, release moves, pirouettes and a dismount using two horizontal bars set at different heights. The lower bar is usually about 5 ft. off the ground, and the high bar is about 8 ft. from the floor.
     
  • Balance Beam: The gymnast completes a choreographed routine with a mount, leaps, jumps, flips, turns and a dismount on a padded, wooden beam approximately 4 ft. high. The exercise may not be longer than 90 seconds.
     
  • Floor Exercise: The gymnast performs a choreographed routine to music of her choice. The routine usually consists of three or four tumbling passes, as well as leaps, jumps and dance moves, and cannot be longer than 90 seconds. The floor mat is 40 ft. by 40 ft. and is usually made of carpeting over padded foam and springs.

 

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