History of Artistic Gymnastics
Gymnastics, as an activity, has existed for over 2,000 years, but its development as a competitive sport began just a little more than 100 years ago. During the 1800’s, mass and individual exhibitions were conducted by various school clubs, athletic clubs and ethnic organizations such as the Turnvereins and Sokols. Although slow to catch on in the schools, gymnastics did flourish in the Turnvereins and Sokols. It was introduced to the United States and its school systcms in the 1830’s by such immigrants as Charles Beck, Charles Follen and Francis Lieber.
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) was formed in 1881, then called the Bureau of the European Gymnastics Federation, opening the way for international competition. In the United States, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) assumed control of gymnastics, along with most other amateur sports, in 1883. Prior to this time gymnastics “championships” were held by various clubs and organizations.
The first large-scale meeting of gymnasts was the 1896 Olympics, where Germany virtually swept the medal parade. Seventy-five gymnasts from five countries competed in the men's horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, still rings, and vault events.
At the 1900 Games in Paris, only one gymnastics event was held, an individual combined exercise. The first international gymnastics competition outside of the Olympics was held in 1903 in Antwerp, Belgium, and gymnasts from Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands competed in what is now considered the first World Championships. At St. Louis in 1904, the men's team combined competition was added to the Olympic program.
An interesting side note to the world championships is that in 1922, swimming and track and field events were added to the competition in Antwerp. Soon after this experiment, the sport's leaders agreed that swimming had no business in a gymnastics competition. But at the ninth World Championships in 1930 at Luxembourg, the competition included the pole vault, broad jump, shot put, rope climb and a 100 meter sprint. Track and field did not fully disappear from the World Gymnastics Championships circuit until the 1954 competition.
At the 1924 Games in Paris, the basis of modern Olympic gymnastics competition was firmly established. The athletes (men) began to compete for individual Olympic titles on each apparatus, as well as in combined individual and team exercises. The 1928 Games witnessed the debut of the first women's event, the team combined exercise, won by the Netherlands. The United States women first competed in the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany.
The United States Gymnastics Federation, now known as USA Gymnastics, became the national governing body of the sport in the United States in 1970 and remains as such today.
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