In a bright gymnasium there is only a hushed crowd and a faint smell of chalk. Suddenly piano music plays as an athlete dances and soars over a mat. A few yards away another contestant silently performs on a narrow beam of wood. Someone else hurtles around and between two wooden poles while a competitor flies to impossible heights over a vaulting horse. This is the drama, power, and chaos of a gymnastics meet. Excitement about the sport has grown to the point that record numbers of people participate in competition and for recreation.
The two kinds of gymnastics most commonly seen in competition are artistic gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics. Artistic exercises are performed on apparatuses and mats. There are six events for men: floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and horizontal bar.
For women there are four events: floor exercise, uneven bars, vault, and balance beam. Competition is divided into required, or compulsory, and optional exercises. The required exercises are designed to show basic skills. Optional routines display more difficult skills and allow creativity.
Rhythmic gymnastics is a mixture of ballet, acrobatics, and juggling in which rhythm, grace, flexibility, and dexterity in handling implements are demonstrated. Gymnasts perform to music while using balls, ropes, hoops, ribbons, or Indian clubs.
The Olympic Games have long been the showcase for gymnastic competition. With the rebirth of the Olympics in 1896, gymnastics for men came to center stage with five nations competing. Women's gymnastic participation in the Olympics began in 1928. Team competition in rhythmic gymnastics was formally added to the Olympic program in 1984, though rhythmic equipment had occasionally been used in the 1940s and 1950s.
As television coverage of the Olympics grew, so did public enthusiasm for gymnastics. The performances of such stars as Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union and Nadia Comaneci of Romania created such excitement that by 1980 there were more than 30,000 competing gymnasts in the United States alone.
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Produced by Price Paramore