50 Interesting Facts About The Evolution of Gymnastics Equipment

The main aspects at the core of any major apparatus changes are gymnast safety and performance enhancement. All changes and modifications over the years have been made with these two aspects in mind. In this post, we look at some interesting facts related to gymnastics equipment and its evolution. Gymnastics routines are one of the toughest in the world of sports, requiring gymnasts to perform elements that challenge not only their physical strength but also their inner strength.

 

The Vault

Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  • The vaulting table, an apparatus used in vaulting events, was used in the Olympics for over 100 years before being replaced by the vault table for safety reasons and to allow for more impressive acrobatics.
  • The vault apparatus was invented by gymnast and educator Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in the early 19th century.

  • The old vault apparatus caused a significant number of injuries to athletes in vault events over a substantial period of time. It had a similar design to the pommel horse, but without the pommels.
  • The new vault apparatus is nicknamed “the tongue” by gymnasts because of its design and overall appearance. The old vaulting apparatus used in international competitions was officially replaced in 2001.
Raphael Goetter, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • From a safety perspective, the table surface is made of suede, a type of leather with a fuzzy texture. Suede is commonly used for shoes and bags. Its use on the table helps to prevent gymnasts from slipping.
  • Originally, a vaulting table was used by Roman soldiers to improve and speed up their horse-mounting technique.

 

The Balance Beam

Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  • The balance beam is a gymnastics event performed on a small, thin beam that is typically raised from the floor on a leg or stand. Only female gymnasts compete in this event.
  • The Beam was first introduced as a gymnastic event in Leipzig, Germany, in 1921.
  • German gymnast Erika Zuchold became the first female athlete to successfully attempt a backflip on the balance beam event in 1964. After her performance, female gymnasts’ inclination to perform acrobatics on the beam increased, as traditionally, the acts were more focused on balancing acts.
Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • In earlier years, athletes competed on a beam made of a rubber-like material. The material was slippery and caused injuries, so it was eventually banned.
  • In the early 18th century, gymnasts practiced balancing on pine tree trunk planks. The modern beam used for this event was not officially adopted until 1934.

 

Parallel Bar

Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • The parallel bars were originally invented by German gymnastics educator Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who is also known as the “father of gymnastics”.
  • The bars of parallel bars are made of wood, such as oak or maple. Their outer coating is also made of wood.
  • Before becoming a distinct gymnastics event, parallel bars were used to train gymnasts for pommel horse routines and elements.

  • In the early days, the parallel bars were kept closer together. However, as gymnasts became more skilled and acrobatics became more complex, the bars were moved further apart.
  • In earlier times, Jahn constructed the apparatus by nailing two bars to tree trunks. He encouraged students to use it for various exercises and routines.
  • In the early 18th century, bars were fixed to the ground, but around the period of 1819, Swiss citizen Peter Heinrich Clias designed the first portable parallel bar apparatus.

 

Uneven Bar

Martin Rulsch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • The uneven bars event is performed only by female gymnasts. Its structure is similar to the men’s horizontal bar event, but the only difference is that one bar is kept higher than the other.
  • Until 1927, women gymnasts competed in parallel bar competitions the same way as men.
  • Uneven parallel bars were first developed for women’s competitions in the 1930s and used in the Olympic Games in 1936.
Martin Rulsch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Currently, uneven bars are made of fiberglass with a wood laminate to prevent them from breaking. In the past, the bars were made of wood, which was more likely to break.
  • In the early 1970s, manufacturers began producing uneven bars as individual apparatus, separate from their frames. This made the bars adjustable to the cables.
  • Until the 1970s, the form and circumference of bars for both women and men were the same.

 

Horizontal Bar

Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • The horizontal bar apparatus was introduced into gymnastics by German educator Johann GutsMuths in his book Gymnastik für die Jugend. It was further developed by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn and his students in the early 1800s.
  • Horizontal bar is also known as the “high bar” and it was simply derived by Jahn from the use of horizontal bars used for hanging household items, such as clothes.
  • During its development, the bar was made of wood. Today, it is made of steel, which has a certain level of elasticity. Gymnasts wear leather grips on their hands for a firm grip.
  • The bar has undergone many changes, perhaps not in terms of design, but in the composition of materials used and the overall structure of the apparatus.  In terms of materials, the bar has evolved from wood to iron to steel.
  • The steel bars used today are more flexible, allowing gymnasts to perform complex routines. This was not the case during the early period of development, when bars were simply dangled between two posts.
  • In 1979, the height of the horizontal bar was increased by 200 mm, from its original height of 2,550 mm. The strength of the bar is designed to withstand 8 times the body weight of a gymnast during their performance.   

 

Pommel horse

Martin Rulsch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • In olden days, the pommel horse apparatus was made with a wooden body, metal frame, and leather cover. The new pommel horse is constructed with a metal frame and covered with foam rubber and leather.
  • The pommels, or handles, of the apparatus are made of metal and, in some cases, plastic. Today’s apparatus is much safer than what was used in earlier times. The use of leather and foam padding provides gymnasts with a certain level of comfort while they perform.
  • The modern pommel horse used in gymnastics events today has a structure similar to its original, which was made in the USA in 1948.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-12352, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  • In the early 19th century, Friedrich Jahn developed the modern exercises and routines that athletes perform on the pommel horse.
  • Due to its design, structure, and routines, the pommel horse is considered one of the most difficult gymnastics apparatuses to perform on, as gymnasts need to have good technique backed by strong muscular power.

  • In 1975, a new pommel horse made of plastic and manufactured using a machine, rather than manually, was introduced at Gymnaestrada in Berlin.
  • The use of wooden horses for training and practice by soldiers and mountaineers can be traced back to the 4th century.

 

Rings

Martin Rulsch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Rings (still rings) is an artistic gymnastics equipment used by men for the event. With the help of cables, two wooden or metal rings hang off the floor suspended from a steel frame.
  • During its evolution, especially after the mid-1900s, the overall force in a long swing on rings has evolved from 5 times to 12 times.
  • Specifications of rings used in competitions:
    Inner girth: 18 cm
    Thickness: 28 mm.
  • Friedrich Ludwig Jahn developed the rings as a form of exercise. The routine was originally known as “Roman Rings” because its origins can be traced back to ancient Italy.
  • In the past, gymnasts could perform exercises and routines freely on rings that were allowed to swing freely. Today, gymnasts must perform on rings while keeping them as still as possible.

 

Rhythmic gymnastics

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-G0428-0028-001 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • In rhythmic gymnastics, gymnasts perform their routines with the following equipment: hoop, ball, clubs, ribbon, and rope.
  • Modern plastic hoops were created by a US-based company after they noticed their popularity in Australia, where children played with bamboo hoops.
  • The origin of hula hoops can be traced back to 500 BC. The hoops used in rhythmic gymnastics events must have a minimum weight of 300 grams.
David Thévenot, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • The balls used in rhythmic gymnastics are usually made of rubber or synthetic material. The minimum weight of a ball is 400 grams.
  • The length of the rope used in rhythmic gymnastics should be such that when held down by the feet, it reaches the gymnast’s armpits.
  • To perform various routines in rhythmic gymnastics, female gymnasts wear toe shoes that have been manufactured by the German-based Bleyer Shoe Company since 1954. 

 

Trampoline & Tumbling

Martin RulschCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Trampoline became an Olympic sport at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
  • The first trampoline was invented by George Nissen and Larry Griswold in 1936. Both were gymnasts, and their invention was inspired by the acrobatics done by circus performers.
  • A trampoline is made by using a tightly stretched, strong fabric (bounce mat) attached to a rounded frame. The fabric does not contain any elasticity or elastic components; instead, the elasticity is provided by the springs to which it is attached.
  • Tumbling is a gymnastic event performed on a tumbling track. The tumbling track is made from drop stitch fabric, which is made by stitching two separate pieces of fabric together with polyester threads. As we know, polyester is known for its durability and sturdiness.
  • There are several types of tumbling mats, including round mats, square mats, and rectangular mats.

 

Given the pace of technological advancement and biomechanical research, we can expect to see more radical improvements and modifications to gymnastics equipment. Additionally, as gymnastics events have become more competitive over the years, there is a greater demand for robust apparatus that can safely support the athletes’ increasingly complex skills.

 

Feature image credit:

Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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