User:PhillipaDickens/Gymnastics, a sport once every four years?

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Double ring leap on floor exercise at VHSL state 2006. Photo by Skubik

Gymnastics is a sport of grace, elegance, beauty, strength and defying gravity. It is considered by some to be the 'ultimate sport' due to the seemingly inhuman skills performed. It is one of the most popular sports during the Summer Olympics, however it seems to not exist throughout the rest of the quadrennial. Is it that the Olympics is the only time when gymnasts compete? Or is it that politics get in the way of allowing the public to see when the athletes are competing? This article will look at both these questions, focusing on the most popular category of gymnastics, Women's Artistic Gymnastics, as well as comparing the public acknowledgment of the sport in America compared to Australia.

Presentation: Gymnastics. A sport once every four years?

The Evolution of Gymnastics[edit]

Gymnastics is one of the oldest sports known, having been one of the 43 events in the first modern Olympics in 1896, however it was different to the gymnastics seen in the Olympics today. It consisted of events such as ‘rope climb’ and ‘team high bar’[1]. Only men were allowed to compete in these events. Women were permitted to compete in gymnastics for the first time in 1952 ( Gradually the sport evolved, and eventually the sport we know as gymnastics was created. However instead of the small little girls seen competing in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics today they were often older women who had been ballet dancers, as is the case of the most decorated Olympian Larissa Latynina of the Former Soviet Union ( This was changed when Olga Korbut first competed in the 1972 Olympics[2], and was considered to be a little girl in comparison to her ‘women’ competitors. She was also performing more difficult skills than had ever been seen before. This was emphasized in 1976 when Nadia Comaneci competed. She is possibly one of the most famous gymnasts ever having earned the first perfect 10 in an Olympic competition. As gymnastics continued to evolve the skills got more difficult and the apparatus were adapted to suit this. The floor became sprung, rather than just being a piece of carpet on the ground, the uneven bars have been moved further apart to allow gymnasts to swing more freely between the two, the beam has been adapted to be softer for the gymnasts feet, and the vaulting horse has been removed in favor for the safer vaulting table. This allows for much more difficult skills to be competed, especially on floor.

Gymnastics Outside the Olympic Games[edit]

Gymnastics is one of the most popular sports in the Olympic games, however it appears that is the only time that it is popular. During the Olympics gymnastics is shown at prime time and has a very high viewing rate and tickets generally either sell out or almost sell out. The other three years however, most people don’t even acknowledge the sport exists. Do these athletes only compete once every four years? No. They are training and competing in major competitions quadrennial. Those who make it to the very top of their country will be competing each year at the World Championships. This competition should be considered as prestigious as the Olympic Games, however, to those outside the sport, and many in the sport, it is not. For many fans of gymnastics, it is difficult to view the World Championships while the athletes are competing, and many rely of bloggers to post updates in order to know what is happening. While there are a few sites that allow a live stream, such as Universal Sports, these generally have to be paid for, and are not available in all countries.

The effect of traditional media on the sport[edit]

By having the media focus so strongly on the Olympic Games, it has affected the sport of gymnastics. Athletes are now aiming to peak once every four years, rather than every year. While they are happy to win world championships, the main focus is to win an Olympic medal. In gymnastics, this causes many issues. There is an age rule for how old an athlete must be before being considered eligible to compete in a World Championships or Olympic Games. If they are not turning 16 in the year of the competition, they are unable to compete (Federation Internationale de Gymnastique, Technical Regulations 2011). For athletes who turn 16 in the year following the Olympic Games, this is incredibly difficult. By the way gymnastics is looked at today, the athletes are required to be in top form for the entire four year cycle. This increases the risk of injury and mental burn out for the young athletes. There are many arguments for abolishing the age rule, however if the World Championships were to become as publicly known, then the idea of being World Champion would be as appealing as being Olympic Champion.

The effect of social media on the sport[edit]

This view is expressed by many people, some of who have a fairly strong voice in the blog world of gymnastics. The Couch Gymnast, a self-confessed couch gymnastics fan, has an amazing knowledge of gymnastics, both as a fan, but also of the more technical side. While she may not have done the courses or training of the coaches, judges or athletes, she has done the research and has learnt about the sport through this and through watching the sport. This is one of the most important ways that the sport of gymnastics is promoted. In modern society, the Internet is the largest source of communication. If blogs are promoted correctly, the sport can get a boost in society, and may possibly mean that it is seen outside the Olympics. The FIG, the international governing body of gymnastics, have acknowledged this, allowing various bloggers to attend World Championships as media, and allowing them to either blog or post live Facebook updates during the competition. This has so far proven to be highly beneficial, with many international fans being satisfied with the coverage, however, many agree that live video would be much better. In Australia, fans were fortunate enough that if they had Foxtel coverage of the 2011 World Championships was available a few days after the event had taken place[3]. While this is not the ideal timing, it is better than previous years, where there has been no coverage and fans have had to wait until others post the footage on various sites, or not see it at all.

Gymnastics in Australia vs. Gymnastics in America[edit]

Australian Gymnastics[edit]

Gymnastics in Australia is slowly becoming a more popular with registrations of athletes across all gymsports in excess of 120 000[4]. This includes those athletes who are just starting out to those who are competing in the Senior International level. Of this 120 000 there are around 11 Senior International athletes. In a World Championships team there are 6 athletes who compete and two reserves. This is over half the total number of Senior International gymnasts currently competing in Australia. With the restrictions on numbers, it is important that in order for Australia to perform well and get the media recognition that is deserved, the top athletes have to remain healthy. This is a challenge as, due to the nature of gymnastics, injury is very common. Australia recently received a boost when Lauren Mitchell won gold in the floor exercise at world championships in 2010, and silver on the beam and floor exercise at the world championships in 2009. The boost that the sport received from this is similar to the one it received in 2005 when Monette Russo became Australia’s first female gymnast to medal at a World Championships where she placed 3rd. That World Championships was also a boost for gymnastics in the media in Australia as it was held in Melbourne. This competition received a lot of media attention, as did the competitions in 2009 and 2010. However, the team did not perform as well in the 2011 world championships, leaving the competition with no medals, and there was no media attention in Australia. They did however qualify a full team to the Olympic Games, which only eight countries were able to do.

American Gymnastics[edit]

American Gymnastics currently has 4.5 million registered athletes. Of these, 71% are female[5], and at the Visa Championships in 2011, 20 Senior International female athletes competed[6]. In order to compete at the Visa Championships an athlete must either qualify or be selected. From this competition 18 athletes were selected to the national training squad, some through injury petition[7]. With a 6 athlete team and two reserves, that leave over half the national training squad, ready to step in in case of injury, as well as many other athletes who did not qualify to the team. With this depth, America has placed within the top three at every World Championships or Olympic Games since the 2000 Olympics. With this success, gymnastics in America has become one of the most popular sports. They have a major international competition each year, the American Cup, and the Visa American Championships, one of the most prestigious competitions in America. Both these competitions are televised and receive large amounts of media coverage. In the USA gymnasts who are successful internationally often elect to become professional athletes. This means they are allowed to make money from the sport by accepting prize money from winning World Championships, American Cup, American Championships as well as taking endorsements from companies such as GK Elite, the most popular gymnastics leotard brand across the world. Some athletes have been known to promote brands such as Adidas , or even taco’s.

The Major Differences Between American and Australian Gymnastics[edit]

In America, companies much more readily invest on the product of gymnasts and their sport. They have realized that every girl wants to be like those girls. So graceful like ballerinas, yet so powerful and strong, like superwoman. Women want to have bodies like these athletes, lean, muscular and athletic. With these qualities, the athletes are highly marketable. Whether the company is selling leotards to other gymnasts or tacos to the general population, with people who are able to flip and look good while doing it, the companies have realized that they are able to utilize this in order to sell more products. Companies in Australia have not yet established this connection, and prefer to use the more mainstream athletes, such as cricketers or footballers, to promote their products. Whether this is because they wish to remain using more publicly known faces or have not realized the potential behind using gymnasts is unknown. If companies were to capitalize on gymnasts, then the athletes would be in the public eye much more, and would be as recognizable as the more mainstream sports athletes. This is the type of boost gymnastics in Australia requires so that people are aware of it outside the Olympic Games.


Gymnastics is a sport that is not recognized at any period other than when the athletes are successful at a World Championships or throughout the Olympic Games. If the governing body of gymnastics in Australia were to allow it to become a more commercial sport, then the sport would likely become more publicly known and the athletes more recognizable. This would help the sport be known as a sport throughout more than just the Olympic Games.