Origins and Development of Gymnastics
Amy Walton | 27 March 2017

The discipline sport that is gymnastics burst spectacularly onto the world stage, stunning the 1972 Olympic Games, in the shape of Olga Korbut, a 17 year old Russian gymnast known as the Sparrow from Minsk who truly opened us all into the world of gymnastics. Before then the world had seen no unique talent with regards to the sport. Olga was the first to allow us to witness the intricate ways in which our bodies were capable of stretching.


At the games Olga won three gold medals on floor, beam and overall as well as a silver medal on the uneven bars. Her outstanding performance was recognised by all the spectators and also the media. After Olga’s success, surges of young girls were desperate to join their local gymnastic clubs after the sport had made headlines. Olga was the first star of gymnastics who also created her very own move: the Korbut flick on beam. The 2003 world beam champion Fan Ye performed this move in both of her routines. This was an outstanding and courageous move never previously executed which stunned the nation and emphasised her unique talent as a gymnast.


Women’s gymnastics was introduced by the ancient Greeks and has developed over time into the competitive sport we know today. Artistic gymnastics is the most well known type of gymnastics. It has been an Olympic sport since the 1896 Athens Olympics. For 32 years, only men were allowed to compete but beginning at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, women were allowed to compete in artistic gymnastics events as well. There are differences with regards to men’s and women’s gymnastics as both sports have different criterias for each gender. Men and women compete on different apparatus due to their strength and bodies this is why you don’t see men competing on a 10 inch beam…


The XX Olympics was held in Germany and saw Olga’s first international appearance. Thirty six years after the Berlin Games remembered unto such horror-Munich became the setting for a hostage situation. Masked Palestinian gunmen forced their way into the Olympic building, murdering two of the Israeli delegates. The tragedy culminated in a shootout at the airport. 9 more Israeli hostages and a police officer were killed. Against this backdrop, the true magic of Olga Korbut gymnastics performance could do nothing to relieve the sense of shock from the tragic events.


The main element of gymnastics that has developed over time is the level of difficulty with regards to the moves. During Olga’s career the hardest move to perform was a tuck back on floor. Nowadays this is a simple move required on beam. In the 2013 London Olympics Gabby Douglas performed a full twist back somersault on beam. Over the years the moves have become more extreme with a higher risk of injury. However, with the numerous hours of training the Olympic athletes put in a week, the moves are not so impossible to perform than we think. The equipment has also become more advance with the floor having springs recently installed underneath in order to give the gymnasts more height for their tumbles. The vault shape has also changed within the last twenty years due to the development of harder moves like the tsukahara and yerchenko.


As well as the moves and equipment changing, its also about the development of the gymnasts appearance. Nowadays we are privileged enough to see the dazzling sequin leotards modelled by the gymnasts, as well as the detailed and well gelled back hair. Points are in fact deducted off gymnastics if they have baggy leotards on and from my experience being squeezed into a tiny leotard and having your hair pulled back off your face to the point of baldness is almost worse than the hours of training put in before competition. However, for a gymnast, appearance is everything.


Over the years more gymnastic stars have been born and given outstanding performances in Olympic Games and World Championship with Nadia Commonetch being the first ever gymnast to score a perfect ten on her floor routine. Beth Tweddle nationally competing in three Olympic Games and many others to come following in the footsteps of past stars.

James Routledge 2016