History for Gymnastics

Last Updated on October 4, 2022 by Andrew Pirie

Introduction: What is the brief history of gymnastics

The sport of gymnastics, which derives its name from the ancient Greek word for disciplinary exercises, combines physical skills such as body control, coordination, dexterity, gracefulness, and strength with tumbling and acrobatic skills, all performed artistically.

At many levels, men and women perform Gymnastics. From local clubs and schools to colleges and universities. And in elite national and international competitions.


Gymnastics In Ancient Egypt? – 7000 Years and Counting

Gymnastics was most likely first depicted in Egyptian artifacts. The art of Ancient Egypt depicts the earliest known evidence of gymnastics.

And performed female acrobats for the Pharaohs and the Egyptian nobility; acrobats entertained Egyptian nobility around 7,000 years ago, judging by ancient frescoes.

As far back as 5000 BC, Many drawings have been dated and authenticated. These Egyptian hieroglyphs depict such gymnastics activities as backbend variations and partner stunts.

The ancient Egyptians invented many sports, some for entertainment, and others for keeping strong, physically fit, and slim.

The picture dates back to 2000 years BC. It shows a gymnastics drill in which the body is bent backward until the hand s touches the ground.

Revealing bodily flexibility. It is one of the most commonly practiced exercises today.


History for Gymnastics

No Bull Vaulting – Minoan Civilization

Beginning about 2,700 BC, acrobats would vault over the backs of bulls on Crete’s island when the Minoan civilization flourished.

At the Palace of Knossos in Crete, a well-known fresco records this.

It depicts a vaulter performing what either a cartwheel or handspring over a charging bull is.

No Warm-Ups and No Practice Vaults

Both men and women performed The art of bull-leaping. Minoan Crete developed this. The athlete would run toward a charging bull.

Grab its horns. And when tossed into the air, would execute various aerial movements. Landing on the bull’s back. And dismount and land on his or her feet on the other side of the bull.

This early gymnastics-related event required strength, courage, grace, and style. Without knowing, we could predict that this version of the sport had a very high injury and mortality rate.

Is the acrobat in the Minoan bull-leaping fresco doing a handstand on the bull or just doing a flip over the animal?

It is a magnificent fresco from the Knossos Minoan palace, dated around 1450 BCE, unearthed by Sir Arthur Evans and initially restored by his team.

It depicts two females and a male (the one on the back of the bull) leapers and seems to be of emblematic, symbolic character.

Some general observations:

They are found in plenty of bull-leaping images (on frescoes, seals, vessels), not only in Crete but all over the Mediterranean. The vast majority of them depict the image above, so we can assume that this is a realistic depiction.

The bull is depicted by unknown artists on a bigger scale than the humans to transfer the spectators’ awe during a bull-leaping performance.

The big question: What are the movements of each of the athletes?

Sir Arthur Evans was the first to attempt an explanation. He concluded that a leaper was taking the bull by the horns, then flipped over the animal’s head, landed on its back, made a reverse flip, and finally landed behind the bull. The drawings below show his proposals for the two leapers, the man, and the girl on the left.

This is a problematic theory. The female leaper in the fresco has grabbed the horns and is already in the air; from this position, the exercise entrance is

a. dramatically dangerous

b. practically impossible as there is no way to get the momentum needed.

Another proposal by Younger (1967): The male leaper jumps from a higher position over the bull’s head, rests on his hands, and jumps down. It is plausible, but in this case, the rest would probably be on the bull’s head, not on the back.

The most probable exercise: The male leaper jumps on the bull from the side and performs acrobatic exercises on his back. In this fresco’s depiction, he is performing a handstand. More depictions enhance this theory; look at what this girl is doing (statuette from Rethymno):

What are the girls in the fresco doing: The one on the left is hanging from the bull’s horns to slow down the animal (the girl from Rethymno is performing on a standing still bull).

The girl on the right is probably praying, she can’t be ready to catch the leaper, as her arms and legs are stretched (wrong position).

The fresco is probably a compact depiction of the three different actions that take place at the same time during a bull-leaping performance: a leaper slows down the bull so that a second one can jump on and perform. The third one is praying.

Andreas Bitados take a picture of the fresco. The drawings are from the site below, and so is most of the information above (unfortunately is a Greek one).


The Spread of the Sport

By 800 BC, Greece, China, Persia, and India were using gymnastics for military training. Gymnastics, as practiced from early times, appears to have spread from Egypt to Greece and Rome.

Greek Olympics

To facilitate body development, and introduced early Greek Civilization to gymnastics.

For example, through a series of exercises that included running, jumping, swimming, throwing, wrestling, and weight lifting. Practiced in some form were many basic gymnastic events. Before the introduction by the Greeks of gymnazein, literally, “to exercise naked.”

In Ancient Greece, a highly valued attribute was Gymnastics. And both men and women participated in vigorous gymnastic exercises.

It is said that the ancient Greeks did gymnastics with no clothes on. Wouldn’t some of the exercises and competitions be impractical like that?

Yes, without appropriate attire and protective equipment such as cups, some of our routines might have been awkward to perform. However, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think there was a one-to-one correspondence between modern routines and those of the ancients.

Conversely, ancient gymnasia specialized in training and strengthening the male bodies providing events and disciplines absent from our gymnasia. Among these were training in ethics, morals, philosophy, literature, and music.

Back then, gymnastics was very different. Even if you watch videos from the early 1900s, before World War 2, the Olympic-level moves would be mostly considered yoga and dancing nowadays. Even in the 1950s, the Olympics level was far less than that of a Level 6 gymnast today. It was not until the 1970s that the level really stepped up and became an elite sport.

To answer your question, the skills did not require a level of movement that made this impractical. And if it did, they probably found ways to deal with it, just like gymnasts and dancers today put their hair up, tape their knees and ankles, etc.

The Romans

The Romans, after conquering Greece, developed the activities into a more formal sport. And they used the gymnasiums to prepare their legions for warfare physically.

However, with Rome’s decline, interest in gymnastics dwindled, with tumbling remaining as a form of entertainment.

Many of these exercises came to be included in the Olympic Games until the Games’ abandonment in AD 393. Some of the competitions grouped under this ancient definition of gymnastics later became separate sports, such as athletics (track and field), wrestling, and boxing.


Tumbling was an art form in ancient China as well. Stone engravings found in Shandong province that date to the Han period (206 BC-AD 220) portray acrobatics.

Modern Gymnastics

In 1774, a Prussian, Johann Bernhard Basedow. Included physical exercises with other forms of instruction at his school in Dessau, Saxony. With this action began the modernization of gymnastics and thrust the Germanic countries into the sport’s forefront.

In the late 1700s, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn of Germany developed the sidebar, the horizontal bar, the parallel bars, the balance beam, and jumping events. And considered the “father of modern gymnastics”more than anyone else.

Gymnastics flourished in Germany in the 1800s. While in Sweden, a more graceful form of the sport, stressing rhythmic movement, was developed by Guts Muth.

The opening (1811) of Jahn’s school in Berlin. To promote his version of the sport. And this led to Europe and England forming many clubs.

The prime developer of natural gymnastics was Per Henrik Ling. In 1813 Ling founded a teacher-training center, the Royal Gymnastics Central Institute, in Stockholm.

Ling devised and taught a system of gymnastic exercises designed to produce medical benefits for the athlete. Calisthenics is attributed to him, including free calisthenics—exercises without hand apparatus such as clubs, wands, and dumbbells.

Although Ling did not promote competition, free calisthenics has evolved into a competitive sport known as floor exercise.



Growth in the United States

Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent introduced gymnastics to the United States. He taught gymnastics in several U.S. universities. About the time of the Civil War. More than 30 pieces of apparatus Sargent invented.

Most of the growth of gymnastics in the United States centered on European immigrants, who introduced the sport in their new cities in the 1880s.

Clubs were formed as Turnverein and Sokol groups, and gymnasts were often referred to as “turners.” Modern gymnastics excluded some traditional events, such as weight lifting and wrestling. And emphasized form rather than personal rivalry.

Modern Competition

Men’s gymnastics was on the schedule of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and it has been on the Olympic agenda continually since 1924.

The olympic gymnastic competition for women began in 1936 with an all-around competition. And in 1952 competition for separate events was added.

In the early Olympic competitions, the dominant male gymnasts were from Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland, where the sport first developed.

But by the 1950s, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern European countries began to produce the leading male and female gymnasts.

Apparatus and Events for women and men were standardized in a Modern Format at the 1954 Olympic Games. As a scoring system, a point system from 1 to 10 came into place.

The Rise of Women’s Gymnastics

And modern gymnastics gained considerable popularity because of the performances of Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union in the 1972 Olympics and Nadia Comaneci of Romania in the 1976 Olympics.

Besides, the widespread television coverage of these dramatic performances gave the sport the publicity that it lacked in the past. And many countries other than the traditional mainstays at the time — the USSR, Japan, East, and West Germany, and other Eastern European nations — began to promote gymnastics, particularly for women; among these countries were China and the United States.



Modern International Competition

Modern international competition has six events for men and four events for women. While the men’s events are the rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, side or pommel-horse, long or vaulting horse, and floor (or free) exercise.

These events emphasize upper body strength and flexibility, along with acrobatics. The women’s events are the vaulting horse, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise.

On the floor, exercise music plays. At the same time, these events combine graceful, dancelike movements with strength and acrobatic skills. Many competitions include tumbling and trampoline in the United States.

Six Gymnasts make up teams for international competitions.

While in the team competition, each gymnast performs on every piece of equipment, and the team with the highest number of points wins.

There is also a separate competition for the all-around title, which goes to the gymnast with the highest point total after performing on each piece of equipment, and a competition to determine each apparatus’s highest score.

Rhythmic Gymnastics is another type of gymnastics for women. An Olympic sport since 1984. Acrobatic skills not used.

The rhythmic gymnast performs graceful, dancelike movements while holding and moving items such as a ball, hoop, rope, ribbon, or Indian clubs, with musical accompaniment.

Routines were performed individually or in group performances for six gymnasts.

Youth Development Problems

The presence of a preponderance of teenage girls in the international gymnastics competition. The late 1970s and into the 21st century were directly related to the Korbut-Comăneci phenomenon, which was a turning point in the evolution of History for Gymnastics.

Many of these younger gymnasts, especially those who trained long hours for competitions. However, they had not yet reached menarche.

For example, some used doping techniques to delay the onset of physical maturation.

And its resulting changes to a gymnast’s center of gravity and weight.

Besides, coaching these youngsters posed difficulties. While many were lured from or pushed by their families to train in unfamiliar surroundings.

By 2000 they had raised the age requirement for Olympic participants in gymnastics to 16 to offset some of these problems.

What is the history of gymnastics in India?

History for Gymnastics came of age in India when at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Ashish Kumar won the first-ever medal in gymnastics, he won a bronze medal.

However, soon after the win, the President of the Gymnastics Federation of India asked Ashish’s Chief Coach from the Soviet Union, Vladimir Chertkov: “Is this all you can deliver, a bronze?” and widely reported the comment in the press.

Later, the coach revealed that “In August 2009, we had no equipment.

Ashish trained on the hard floor till February 2010, and then we got equipment around 20 years old.” The Federation announced that no Indian team would travel to Rotterdam for the World Championships in October, which meant that Indian gymnasts automatically would not qualify as a team for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Alongside Ashish, the Commonwealth Games 2014 also saw the rise of counterpart female gymnasts from India.

Gymnast Dipa Karmakar also scored a bronze medal in the Gymnastics at the 2014 Commonwealth Games – Women’s Vault making her the first-ever female Indian gymnast.

Her brilliant attempt at landing the Produnova in her second attempt at vault gave her an average score of 14.366, making her one of the few gymnasts in the world to land Produnova on their feet successfully.

There aren’t many Indian gymnasts who have made a name for themselves at the international level. The only gymnast, most Indians, have heard of is Dipa Karmakar.

It is an upcoming sport and has a minimal history in our country.

Yet, our young talents are working hard at honing their craft and delivering world-class performance consistently.

The star of the hour is Aruna Reddy, who has won the bronze medal for India in her category in the Gymnastics World Cup, she missed the silver by a mere 0.05 points!

what can say a lot about the future of Indian gymnastics rather than its past?

The name you are looking for is Dipa Karmakar

22-year-old from Tripura started to learn gymnastics at the age of 6 under the coaching of veteran Bisbeshwar Nandi, who is coaching her.

She is the first Indian to win a Commonwealth Games Medal in gymnastics winning a Bronze in Glasgow.

She became the first Indian female gymnastic to qualify for the Olympics



Expert of the most difficult ‘Produnova’ (a vault that consists of a front handspring and two front somersaults). Dipa has garnered the highest score on a Produnova in the world: 15.100, which is 7.000 for difficulty, and an 8.100 for execution, with a 0.1 penalty, making her the rarest of rare phenomenons.

Only two of her contemporaries have attempted the Produnova – Yamilet Pena of the Dominican Republic and Fadwa Mahmoud of Egypt. None has managed to garner a high of 15.100 in a high-profile competition.

She is also one of the five women who successfully landed the tough Produnova vault in competition.

Here is the list of her Produnova Collection

Dipa’s Produnova vaults:

  1. CWG 2014
  2. WC 2015
  3. Rio Qualifier 2016

She also created history by becoming the first Indian to progress through the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships finals.

She finished fourth at the Asian Games in Incheon.

Who are/were the best gymnasts in the world?

It depends on if you’re asking about difficulty or execution.

If you want to know who has completed the hardest skills overall, the answer is Simone Biles. While answers vary for best gymnasts on individual events, but the gymnast with the most difficulty overall is Simone Biles.

Suppose you’re asking about execution, Nadia Comaneci, hands down. She was the best gymnast of her time (though the sport has since moved on to much bigger skills than those she performed) and scored SEVEN 10.0s at the 1976 Olympic Games.

Women: Larissa Latynina, Vera Caslavska, Ludmila Tourischeva, Olga Korbut, Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, Elena Shushunova, Svetlana Boguinskaia, Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller, Nastia Liukin, Svetlana Khorkina, Gabrielle Douglas, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles.

Men: Shun Fujimoto, Peter Vidmar, Bart Conner, Li Ning, Tong Fei, Yuri Korolev, Nikolai Andrianov, Valery Liukin, Vitaly Scherbo, Paul Hamm, Kohei Uchimura.


Gymnastics has come a long way from its development by the Ancient Egyptians to becoming one of the Modern Olympics’ main sports.

Problems facing Gymnastics today have included young girls training long hours, and it has big effects on their physical development.

Adding into account also the scandal with USA Gymnastics, which involved a doctor in the team sexually molesting young girls. In 2000 and raised the age requirement to 16 to deal with these issues. 


  1. https://hroarr.com/article/hema-pedagogics-part-1-the-pedagogics-pioneers-the-role-of-a-hema-teacher/
  2. https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/history-gymnastics-ancient-greece-modern-times/
  3. https://www.curioushistory.com/the-history-of-gymnastics-where-and-how-it-started/
  4. https://www.britannica.com/sports/gymnastics
  5. https://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/40693/fitness/a_brief_history_of_gymnastics.html



By Andrew Pirie

Andrew was elected Vice President of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians in 2020 after being a member for 7 years. He has worked as a PSC Consultant and Research Assistant from 2013-2015, Consultant, and Sprint Coach at Zamboanga Sports Academy from 2015-2017. And Currently is Consultant Coach with VMUF 2021- Current editor and chief of Pinoyathletics.info, and has recently done consultancy work for Ayala Corp evaluating the Track and Field Program. Coaches Sprints, Middle and Jump events he is  Level 3 Athletics Australia Coaching Certification in Sprints and Hurdles. Currently working towards a Masters Degree in Education. He can be contacted on [email protected] You can find more information on Coaching here http://www.pinoyathletics.info/coaching-2/

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