The ancient Greeks believed gymnastics to be the perfect symmetry between mind and body. Modern gymnastics evolved at the end of the 19th century.
Plato, Aristotle and Homer heartily advocated the strengthening qualities of gymnastic activity. The Greeks believed symmetry between the mind and body was possible only when physical exercise was coupled with intellectual activity.
The term "artistic gymnastics" emerged in the early 1800s to distinguish free-flowing styles from techniques used in military training. Gymnastic competitions began to flourish in schools and athletic clubs across Europe and made a fitting return when the Olympic Games were revived in Athens in 1896.
Rocks and clubs
Between 1896 and 1924 the sport evolved into what we recognise as modern gymnastics. Among those disciplines discarded were club swinging, rock lifting and even swimming, which appeared in 1922.
In the early days of artistic gymnastics at the Games, participants often had a background in ballet, and would reach their peak in their 20s. Nadia Comaneci’s and Nellie Kim's perfect scores of 10 at the 1976 Montreal Games, at the age of 14, heralded an era of younger champions, trained specifically in gymnastics from childhood, although gymnasts must now be 16 to compete in the Olympic Games.
Artistic gymnastics was introduced at the very first Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens, and has been present at every edition of the Games since then. At the beginning, it comprised disciplines that are difficult to qualify as “artistic”, such as climbing and acrobatics.
The foundations of the Olympic gymnastics programme were laid at the 1924 Games in Paris, when the men’s apparatus individual and team competitions appeared. In 1928, women were included in the Amsterdam Games. It was not until 1952 that the women’s programme was developed, with seven events, and then stabilised at six events as from the 1960 Games in Rome.
This discipline was mainly dominated by the Soviet Union from 1952 onwards, following the creation of the Russian Gymnastics Federation in 1883. At the 2008 Games in Beijing, it was the Republic of China’s turn to win the most gold medals.