Before 1997, the team competition was structured differently. It still consisted of two sessions. However, gymnasts performed compulsory exercises in the preliminaries and their optional routines on the second day. The team medals were awarded on the combined scores of both days. All-around and event final qualifiers were also determined according to the combined scores.
The optionals were the gymnasts' personal routines, developed with their coaches to adhere to the requirements of the Code of Points. They were performed in the team finals, the all-around and the event finals.
The compulsories were routines that were developed and choreographed by the FIG Technical Committee. They were performed on the first day of the team competition. Every single elite gymnast in every single FIG member nation performed the exact same exercises. The dance and tumbling skills of compulsory routines were generally less difficult than those of the optionals, but heavily emphasized perfect technique, form and execution. Scoring was exacting, with judges taking deductions for even slight deviations from the required choreography. For this reason, many gymnasts and coaches considered compulsories more challenging to perform than optionals.
Compulsories were eliminated at the end of 1996. The move was extremely controversial, and many successful gymnastics federations, including Russia, the United States and China, voted against the abolition of compulsories. They argued that the exercises helped maintain a high standard of form, technique and execution among gymnasts. Opponents believed that compulsories harmed emerging gymnastics programs. Many members of the gymnastics community still argue that compulsories should be reinstated.
Many gymnastics federations have maintained compulsories in their national programs. Gymnasts competing at the lower levels of the sport – for instance, Level 4-6 in USA Gymnastics and Grade 2 in South Africa – frequently only perform compulsory routines.