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  Sport gymnastics
Gymnastics 1: Ancient Gymnastics

Gymnastics, in the form of acrobatics, calisthenics, and disciplined exercise, has been around since ancient times. Acrobats entertained Egyptian nobility about 7,000 years ago and, judging by ancient frescoes, acrobats vaulted over the backs of bulls on the island of Crete when the Minoan civilization flourished, beginning about 2,700 BC. The name of the sport comes from gymnos, the Greek word for naked. In ancient Greece, male athletes trained and competed in the nude. The gymnasium, originally an area for physical training, came to be a school for training both the mind and the body. There were three types of...

Gymnastics 2: The Development of Modern Gymnastics

Modern gymnastics began with the work of Johann Friedrich GutsMuths (1759-1839), who taught at the Schnepfenthal Educational Institute near Gotha, Germany. GutsMuths developed a complete program of exercises designed to improve balance and suppleness as well as muscular strength. His book, Gymnastics for the Young, published in 1793 and soon translated into Danish, English, French, and Dutch, became a manual for a generation of physical education teachers in several countries. One of GutsMuths' readers was Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778-1852), a gymnastics teacher who was also a Prussian patriot and nationalist. Jahn believed, or convinced himself, that turnen was an old...

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Gymnastics 3: Early American Gymnastics

Three of Jahn's followers, Charles Beck, Charles Follen, and Franz Lieber, left Germany before the 1848 revolution and were the pioneers of American gymnastics. Beck was hired in the spring of 1825 to teach Latin at the experimental Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts. He established North America's first gymnasium at the school and began training students, using Jahn's techniques. He also translated Jahn's book, Deutsche Turnkunst (The German Art of Gymnastics). His translation, titled Treatise on Gymnasticks, taken chiefly from the German of F. L. Jahn, was published in 1828. Meanwhile, Harvard College had decided to establish a gymnastics...

Gymnastics 4: The Turners and Others in America

The Turner movement had the biggest long-range effect on American gymnastics as we know the sport. As previously noted, tens of thousands of Jahn's Turners emigrated to the United States during the late 1840s and early 1850s, and they formed societies in major cities. The first was the Cincinnati Turngemeinde, founded on November 21, 1848. Soon, there were other organizations in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Brooklyn, and Louisville. In September of 1851, the Philadelphia Turngemeinde hosted a gymnastics festival at which a national organization, the Socialistischer Turnerbund, was founded. Arguments over slavery hampered the organization for the next decade, as...

Gymnastics 5. 19th-Century European Gymnastics

Gymnastics spread through Europe primarily as physical training for the military. In France, Francisco Amoros founded the Ecole de Joinville for military training in 1852. A native of Spain who had become a French citizen, Amoros espoused a system of gymnastics that included work on apparatus, calisthenics, and singing. Phokion Heinrich Clias (1782-1854), a native of Boston, became a gymnastics instructor in Switzerland and worked with the Swiss Army early in the 19th century. In 1822, he was invited to London, where he became superintendent of physical training in the royal military and naval academies. His pupil, Gustavus Hamilton, published...

Gymnastics 6. Gymnastics Becomes Competitive

Competitive gymnastics originated with the Turners. They had two types of competition at their period Turnerfests: Events in which the result was based on a qualitative measure, such as the number of times a competitor could chin himself on the horizontal bar in a given period; and those in which subjective judging was required. The most important contest was the Zwolfkampf, in which athletes competed in twelve events from gymnastics and track and field. The first international meet was held in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1880, for teams from Belgium, England, France, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United States....

Gymnastics 7. International Competition

Gymnastics was one of nine sports on the program of the first modern Olympics, at Athens in 1896. There was team and individual competition on the horizontal bars and the parallel bars, with individual competition only on the pommel horse, rings, vault, and rope climbing. In 1900, there was only one event, the men's all-around, which included weightlifting, the pole vault, long jump, rope climb, and the combined long jump and high jump. The first world championships, held at Antwerp in 1903, included a hodge-podge of 26 events. Among them were compulsory exercises without apparatus, optional and compulsory exercises on...

Gymnastics 8. Competitive Gymnastics in the U. S.

The Amateur Athletic Union staged the first national gymnastics championships in 1897. For many years, Turner organizations dominated the competition, but other athletic clubs then began to emerge. Eventually, YMCAs and colleges also became involved in competitive gymnastics. National competition for women was added in 1931 and the NCAA inaugurated its national championship for men in 1938. The first NCAA championship meet for women was held in April of 1982. The United States won most of the medals at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, but that was because almost all of the competitors were American. Frank Kriz was a...

Gymnastics 9. The Current State of Gymnastics

Although the Eastern European countries are still forces to be reckoned with in international gymnastics, they no longer dominate the sport as they once did. More and more nations are producing world-class gymnasts. Since 1984, China has emerged as a major gymnastics power, but several other countries have also produced medal-winners. At the 1996 Olympics, 12 different countries claimed medals, including Greece, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Korea. Russia and China took the bulk of the medals in 2000, but France won two, its first since 1972, and Spain won its first ever gymnastics medal when Gervasio Deferr took the gold...