Gymnastics as a competitive sport developed only a little more than 100 years ago. Various exhibitions were conducted by school clubs, atheletic clubs and ethnic organizations during the 1800s.
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), formed in 1881, paved the way for international competition. The first large-scale meeting of gymnasts came in the form of the 1896 Olympics, held in Athens. Germans dominated the competiton that year and practically swept away the medals. Five countries competed in the events which included the men's horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, rings and vault.
The basis of modern Olympic gymnastics compettition as firmly established at the 1924 Games in Paris. The male athletes began to compete for individual Olympic titles on each apparatus, in combined individual and team exercises.
Women did not compete until the 1928 Olympic Games which witnessed the debut of the first women's event, a team combined exercise which was won by the Netherlands. Women's gymnastics subsequently developed into its four disciplines of vault, asymmetric bars, balance beam and floorwork which were much more suited to femininity than the strength pieces of men's gymnastics. Since 1952, women from the Soviet Union have dominated the Olympic Games. Among the most famous stars of the last 3 decades have been Larissa Latynina , Ludmilla Torischeva and Vera Caslavska who won 4 gold medals at the Mexico Olympic Games.
The first World Championships were held in 1903 in Antwerp, Belgium, with gymnasts from Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France and Belgium competing. Since 1950, the World Championships have been held every four years. From 1979, The World Championships take place in the year preceding the Olympic Games and is used as a qualifying tournament for the Games. There are several important competitions too, such as the Pan-American Games and European Championships.