gymnastics, exercises for the balanced development of the body (see also aerobics), or the competitive sport derived from these exercises. Although the ancient Greeks (who invented the building called a gymnasium for them) and Romans practiced gymnastics, the modern exercises date from the early 19th cent., when Germany's Frederick Ludwig Jahn popularized what he called the Turnverein, an organization of "turners." Although Jahn's system, which employed more apparatus than modern gymnastics, enjoyed brief popularity at Harvard and in several U.S. cities with numbers of German immigrants, it was not until the 20th cent. that gymnastics became widespread in the America. Their eventual success came after their adoption for military training, their placement on the program (1896) of the revived Olympic games, and the inclusion of physical education in school curricula. Until 1972, gymnastics for men emphasized power and strength, while women performed routines focused on grace of movement. That year, however, Olga Korbut, a 17-year-old Soviet gymnast, captivated a television audience with her innovative and explosive routines. In 1976, Romania's Nadia Comaneci became the first in Olympic gymnastic history to earn perfect scores. The popularity of Korbut and Comaneci launched a gymnastics movement in the United States that began to provide competition for long-established Russian and European programs. Internationally, men compete in rings, pommel horse, parallel bars, horizontal bar, vault, and floor exercises, as well as on the trampoline. Women compete in the vault, floor exercises, balance beam, and uneven parallel bars, as well as in rhythmic gymnastics and on the trampoline.
See J. Goodbody, The Illustrated History of Gymnastics (1983); P. Aykroyd, Modern Gymnastics (1986).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.