Gymnastics has existed for more than 2,000 years, but its development as a competitive sport began just little more than 100 years ago. During the 1800's, mass and individual exhibitions were conducted by various athletic and school clubs, as well as ethnic organizations, like the Turnvereins and Sokols.
Although slow to catch on in the schools, gymnastics did flourish in the Turnvereins and Sokols. It was introduced to the U.S. and its school systems in the 1830's by such immigrants as Charles Beck, Charles Follen and Francis Lieber.
The Bureau of the European Gymnastics Federation, which would evolve into the International Gymnastics Federation, was formed in 1881 opening the way for international competition. In the United States, the Amateur Athletic Union assumed control of gymnastics, along with most other amateur sports, in 1883. Prior to this time gymnastics championships were held by various clubs and organizations.
The first large-scale meeting of gymnasts was the 1896 Olympics, where Germany virtually swept the medal parade. Gymnasts from five countries competed in events which included men's horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, rings and vault.
The first international gymnastics competition outside of the Olympics was held in 1903 in Antwerp, Belgium, where gymnasts from Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands competed in what is now considered the first World Championships. At St. Louis in 1904, the men's team combined competition was added to the Olympic program. The U.S. men swept all three team medals.
At the ninth World Championships in 1930 at Luxembourg, the competition included the pole vault, broad jump, shot put, rope climb and a 100-meter sprint. Track and field did not fully disappear from the World Gymnastics Championships circuit until the 1954 competition.
At the 1924 Games in Paris, the basis of modern Olympic gymnastics competition was firmly established. The athletes (men) began to compete for individual Olympic titles on each apparatus, as well as in combined individual and team exercises. The 1928 Games witnessed the debut of the first women's event, the team combined exercise, won by the Netherlands. The U.S. women first competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.
The United States Gymnastics Federation, now known as USA Gymnastics, became the national governing body of the sport in the United States in 1970.
In 1962 the International Gymnastics Federation officially recognized rhythmic gymnastics as a sport. The first Rhythmic World Championships took place in 1963 in Budapest, Hungary, where 28 athletes from 10 European countries competed. The United States sent its first delegation to the Rhythmic World Championships in 1973.
Rhythmic individual all-around competition was added to the Olympic Games in 1984. In 1996, the rhythmic group event was added as a medal sport at the Olympic Games for the first time.
Trampoline and Tumbling
Trampoline and tumbling can be traced to archeological drawings in ancient China, Egypt and Persia. Over the years a number of methods have been devised to allow man to gain time in the air and perform a variety of skills. The trampoline is one of these methods. Trampoline was not actually a competitive event until after its invention by an American, George Nissen, as a portable unit in 1936. From 1947 through 1964, trampoline was included as an event in gymnastics competitions by both the AAU and NCAA. The first Trampoline World Championships was in 1964, and trampoline was first recognized as a sport in its own right in the United States in 1967. Trampoline made its debut as an Olympic sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Power Tumbling, first performed on simple mats, has had U.S. National Championships dating back to 1886. A number of different surfaces have been used for power tumbling, including mats, ski floors, spring floors and today's fiber-glass rod floors, invented by Randy Mulkey. Double Mini-Trampoline competition was added in 1978. The first double mini-trampoline began as two individual mini-tramps, separated by a small table covered by a mat. Later, a one-piece unit was developed by Bob Bollinger and is used today as the official equipment for that event.