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Bars: Everything You Need to Know About Uneven Bars

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Gymnast Nastia Liukin does a Pak salto on bars at the 2004 Nationals

Nastia Liukin does a Pak salto, a release move from the high bar to the low bar

© Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images

Uneven bars is a women's artistic gymnastics event. It's the second apparatus, competed after vault in Olympic order (vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor). It is sometimes called the "uneven parallel bars", "asymmetric bars", or simply "bars".

The Uneven Bars:

The bars are parallel to each other and set at different heights, with the low bar at about 5 and 1/2 ft., and the high bar usually over 8 ft. (This height is adjustable, and Junior Olympic gymnasts and collegiate gymnasts often use the bars at different heights. For elite gymnasts, however, these measurements are standardized.) The width between the bars is approximately 6 ft., and this is also adjustable in Junior Olympic and collegiate gymnastics, but not in international elite competitions.

Types of Uneven Bar Skills:

The most recognizable skills on uneven bars are release moves, pirouettes, and circles.

In a release move, a gymnast lets go of the bar and then regrasps it. She can perform a release move from the high bar to the low bar, from the low bar to the high bar, or within the same bar. Common release moves are the Jaeger, Tkatchev/reverse hecht, Gienger, Pak salto, and Shaposhnikova. Skills are named after the first person who submits it and successfully performs it, so these release moves are named after past gymnasts.

A pirouette is when a gymnast turns on her hands while in the handstand position. She may use a variety of different hand positions during the turn.

Circles, such as giants and free hip circles, are exactly as they sound: the gymnast circles the bar, either stretched out in a handstand or with her hips close to the bar.

A Bar Routine:

Gymnasts perform three phases of a bar routine:

  1. The Mount
    The majority of gymnasts simply hop onto the low bar or high bar and get started. Sometimes, though, a gymnast will do a more interesting mount, such as jumping over the low bar or even doing a flip to catch the bar. (Check out this cool montage of uneven bar mounts.)

  2. The Routine
    A bar routine consists of about 15-20 skills and should flow from one move to the next and use both bars. There shouldn't be any pauses or extra swings. There is no time limit on bars, but routines usually last about 30-45 seconds.

    Combining two or more skills together earns the gymnast a higher difficulty score, and you'll see many gymnasts attempt pirouettes immediately into release moves, or even pair multiple release moves. Good form is important throughout -- the judges are looking for straight legs, pointed toes, and an extended body in handstand positions.

  3. The Dismount
    The gymnast lets go of the bar, performs one or more flips and/or twists, and lands on the mat below. Both height and distance from the bar are judged. The goal of every gymnast is to stick the landing on her dismount -- to land without moving her feet.

The Best Bar Workers:

In recent years, the uneven bars has been a weak event for the United States, but there are still stand-out competitors. Olympic champion Nastia Liukin excelled on the event, winning the Olympic silver medal, two world silver medals, and one world gold. (Watch Nastia Liukin on bars.)

Gabrielle Douglas led the US team on uneven bars at the 2012 Olympics, and made the individual event finals there as well. (Watch Gabrielle Douglas on bars).

Worldwide, Aliya Mustafina (Russia), Viktoria Komova (Russia), Beth Tweddle (Great Britain) and He Kexin (China) are top bar workers.

Perhaps the best ever on bars was Russian Svetlana Khorkina. Khorkina won two Olympic golds (1996 and 2000) and five world golds (1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001) on the event.

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