Artistic gymnastics is a discipline of gymnastics which is a popular spectator sport at the Summer Olympic Games, and in numerous other competitive environments. Competitive gymnasts perform short routines (ranging from approximately 30 to 90 seconds) on different apparatus, with less time for vaulting (see lists below). They are governed by the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique, or FIG.

The FIG designs the Code of Points and regulates all aspects of international elite competition. Within individual countries, gymnastics is regulated by national federations, such as BAGA in Great Britain and USA Gymnastics in the United States.

Gymnastics as a system of harmonious sports training originated in Ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago, although gymnastic exercises and even some sort of apparatus were used in the ancient China and India for medical purposes much earlier. The system was mentioned in works by ancient authors, such as Homer, Aristotle and Plato.

It included many disciplines, which would later become separate sports: swimming, race, wrestling, boxing, riding, etc. and was also used for military training. In its present form gymnastics evolved in Germany and Czechoslovakia in the beginning of the 19th century, and the term "artistic gymnastics" was introduced at the same time to distinguish free styles from the ones used by the military.

A German educator Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who was known as the father of gymnastics, invented several apparatus, including the horizontal bar and parallel bars which are used to this day. Two of the first gymnastics clubs were Turnvereins and Sokols.

In 1881 International Gymnastics Federation was founded and remains the governing body of international gymnastics since then. It included only three countries and was called European Gymnastics Federation until 1921, when the first non-European countries joined the federation, and it was reorganized into its present form. Gymnastics was included into the program of the 1896 Summer Olympics, but women were allowed to participate in the Olympics only since 1928. World Championships, held since 1903 also remained for men only until 1934.

Since that time two branches of artistic gymnastics have been developing - WAG and MAG - which, unlike men's and women's branches of many other sports, are much different in apparatus used at the major competitions, in techniques and concerns.

Women's artistic gymnastics

Women's artistic gymnastics entered the Olympics as a team event in 1928. At the twelfth (12th) gymnastics World Championships in 1950, WAG as it is known today was included, with competition in team, all-around and apparatus final events, although individual women were recognized in the all-around as early as the tenth (10th) World Championships in 1934. Two years after the full women's program (all-around and all four event finals) was introduced into the 1950 World Championships, it was introduced into the 1952 Helsinki Games, and this format has remained as such to this day.

The earliest champions in women's gymnastics tended to be in their 20s; most had studied ballet for years before entering the sport. Larissa Latynina, the first great Soviet gymnast, won her first Olympic all-around medal at the age of 22 and her second at 26; she became the 1958 World Champion while pregnant with her daughter. Czech gymnast Vera Cáslavská, who followed Latynina to become a two-time Olympic all around champion, was 22 before she started winning gold medals.

In the 1970s, the average age of Olympic gymnastics competitors began to gradually decrease. While it was not unheard of to for teenagers to compete in the 1960s - Ludmilla Tourischeva was sixteen at her first Olympics in 1968 - they slowly became the norm, as difficulty in gymnastics increased. Smaller, lighter girls generally excelled in the more challenging acrobatic elements required by the redesigned Code of Points. The 58th Congress of the FIG, held in July 1980, just before the Olympics, decided to raise the minimum age limit for major international senior competition from fourteen to fifteen.

The change, which came into effect two years later, didn't eliminate the problem. By the time the 1992 Olympics rolled around, elite competitors consisted almost exclusively of "pixies" - underweight, prepubertal teenagers - and concerns were raised about athlete welfare.

The FIG responded to this trend by raising the minimum age requirement for international elite competition to sixteen in 1997. This, combined with changes in the Code of Points and evolving popular opinion in the sport, have seen older gymnasts return to competition. While the average elite female gymnast is still in her middle to late teens and of below-average height and weight, it is also common to see gymnasts competing well into their twenties.

At the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne, the silver medalist on vault, Oksana Chusovitina, was a thirty-year old mother, and she received another silver medal on vault at the 2008 Olympics at the age of 33. At the 2004 Olympics, both the second place American team and the third placed Russians were captained by women in their mid twenties; several other teams, including Australia, France and Canada, had many older gymnasts.

Men's events

Floor exercise
Male gymnasts also perform on a 12 by 12 m (40'x40'). sprung floor. A series of tumbling passes is performed to demonstrate flexibility, strength, and balance. The gymnast must also show strength skills, including circles, scales, and press handstands. Men's floor routines usually have four passes that will total between 60-70 seconds and are performed without music, unlike the women's event. Rules require that gymnasts touch each corner of the floor at least once during their routine.
Pommel horse
A typical pommel horse exercise involves both single leg and double leg work. Single leg skills are generally found in the form of scissors, an element often done on the pommels. Double leg work however, is the main staple of this event. The gymnast swings both legs in a circular motion (clockwise or counterclockwise depending on preference) and performs such skills on all parts of the apparatus. To make the exercise more challenging, gymnasts will often include variations on a typical circling skill by turning (moores and spindles) or by straddling their legs (Flares). Routines end when the gymnast performs a dismount, either by swinging his body over the horse, or landing after a handstand.

Still rings

Still Rings is arguably the most physically demanding event. The rings are suspended on wire cable from a point 5.8 meters off the floor, and adjusted in height so the gymnast has room to hang freely and swing. He must perform a routine demonstrating balance, strength, power, and dynamic motion while preventing the rings themselves from swinging. At least one static strength move is required, but some gymnasts may include two or three. A routine must begin with an impressive mount, and must conclude with an equally impressive dismount.

Parallel bars

Men perform on two bars slightly further than a shoulder's width apart and usually 1.75m high while executing a series of swings, balances, and releases that require great strength and coordination.

High bar

A 2.4 cm thick steel bar raised 2.5m above the landing area is all the gymnast has to hold onto as he performs giants (revolutions around the bar), release skills, twists, and changes of direction. By using all of the momentum from giants and then releasing at the proper point, enough height can be achieved for spectacular dismounts, such as a triple-back salto. Leather grips are usually used to help maintain a grip on the bar.
As is the case with female gymnasts, males are also judged on all of their events, for their execution, degree of difficulty, and overall presentation skills.

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