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Gymnastics History – The Evolution To A Sport & Notable Events

gymnastics history

Gymnastics history may not be perfectly clear. However, the sport itself is around for over 2,000 years. It has seriously evolved since then, not to mention its multiple ramifications. The way it started out has nothing to do with what it is like today.

Apart from the repetitive changes that reshaped it as a sport, there were plenty of events that changed the way gymnastics is seen today. Here is a brief history of this sport, as well as some of the most famous events to boost its popularity overtime.

The Origins of Gymnastics

Originally, gymnastics was basically an exercise of strength that also involved some acrobatic movements. The world was later adopted and represents a mixture of two Greek words – gymnos and gymnazo. They mean the same things – training or exercising without any clothes on. There are no famous people behind it as a sport back then.

Gymnastics turned out to be a sport in the 18th century. German professor Johann Cristoph Friedrich Gutsmuths came out with a book based on comprehensive research of this new sport. It was released in 1793, after many months of intensive research. Its role was to teach youngsters about the benefits of gymnastics, as well as multiple exercises to keep them fit. The book was so successful that it was later translated into multiple languages.

Later on, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn took gymnastics to a new level. An active member of the Prussian army at the beginning of the 19th century, he thought about boosting the strength and morale of his troops by teaching them various exercises. Therefore, he established the first open air gymnasium ever recorded, in 1811. Compared to the many gymnastic equipments we have today, there were only three different types of elements that time – high bars, rings and parallel bars.

Gymnastics Becoming a Recognized Sport

The official gymnastics history as a sport started in 1881. The sport became international after a simple rename of the European federation, which became known as the International Gymnastics Federation. The respective body is still regulating the sport today. It only took it 15 years to become a world renowned sport after being introduced into the Olympics in 1896. The sport was exclusively performed by men only. Women were allowed to participate later on, in the 1920s.

Some of the events included back then were the rings, high jumps, running, horizontal bars, parallel bars, vaults, pommel horses and rope climbing. These days, most of them are included in track and field events. However, track and field events were wiped off the Olympics in 1954.

Gymnastics Becoming More Like Today

The gymnastics history reached a turning point during the Olympics in 1956. They were more diversified and involved lots of artistic moments. The gymnastics from 1956 is practically the artistic gymnastics of today. Men competed the main events available these days – parallel bars, rings, vaults, horizontal bars, pommel horses and floor exercises. As for women, they had four events only – balance beams, uneven bars, vaults and floor exercises.

Modern Gymnastics Gaining Popularity

Modern gymnastics represents an age that started during the Olympics in 1972. Soviet Olga Korbut performed a stunning exercise that drew everyone’s attention. The next Olympics from 1976 brought in the first maximum mark of 10 for Romanian Nadia Comaneci. Such dramatic performances were taken over by televisions from all over the world. If back then there were only a few countries interested in gymnastics – USSR, Japan, West and East Germany and Eastern European countries, the sport gained international notoriety in other countries too, especially in China and the USA.

These days, there are five different types of gymnastics – artistic gymnastics is split into two categories, one for men and the other for women. Trampoline gymnastics is relatively new when compared to others and represents one of the latest additions to international competitions.

Scoring in Gymnastics

Gymnastics scores can be quite confusing for those who are not familiar with the sport. Years ago, the score was quite simplistic. A team of referees used to award points for multiple aspects of an exercise, such as diversity and difficulty. Maximum scores used to represent a luxury and were kept for truly special cases. At some point, they become quite common, so the scoring system had to be changed. Why? Easy! Gymnasts were quite close in scores. It was a matter of time until two different teams would have made it on the first position with the exact same score, hence the necessity of an urgent change.

Today, there are two scores only. The D score stands for the difficulty of the exercise. The E score stands for the execution of the exercise. The execution score is what makes the difference. All gymnasts start with a 10.0 score, but they lost points for all kinds of faults. A fall, a bent arm or a bent leg will reduce the score and so on until the end of the exercise. Click here to learn more about how the scoring works.

Notable Events in the Gymnastics History

Here are some of the most important events in the gymnastics history that contribute to its popularity.

1972 – Olga Korbut performed a unique back flip on uneven bars.

1976 – Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect 10.0.

1976 – Shun Fujimoto hit his ring set with a broken knee.

1984 – Mary Lou Retton won the Olympic all-around title.

1984 – USA men’s team won gold.

1988 – Marina Lobatch earned a perfect score in the rhythmic all-around.

1992 – Vitaly Scherbo dominated the men’s competition.

1996 – Kerri Strug stuck her vault on her damaged ankle.

2004 – Paul Hamm won gold after unexpectedly coming from behind.


Although the history of gymnastics is not as exciting as the history of other sports, it had actually existed for thousands of years and was reshaped by small changes here and there that were not too significant at a first glance, but as a whole. Notable events are some of the elements that make gymnastics one of the most watched sports at the Olympics. 

    Elle Lori

    Hi, Elle here. I am a simple girl that loves gymnastics, cooking, fitness and of course, pampering myself with a good massage after a hard day at work. As a creative copywriter, I combine my passion mentioned above to develop reviews and content to help my readers get what they want.