Skip navigation

10.1.1. History of the Sport of Gymnastics.

History of the Sport of Gymnastics

Gymnastics is one of the most popular Olympic sports, since it combines grace, beauty, athleticism and strength.

The Chinese and Egyptians may have practiced a basic form of gymnastics as early as 3000 years ago. However, the term gymnastics was only introduced in the era of the Greeks and Romans. Physical fitness was a highly valued characteristic in ancient Greece. Gymnastics was used by soldiers to get ready for war. The skills and strength needed to perform gymnastic moves (such as running, jumping, tumbling, mounting and dismounting horses) were thought to help those fighting in wars. As a result, gymnastics became an important component of Greek education. It was compulsory for all students to practice the sport and eventually the gymnasiums developed into schools where gymnastics, music and mathematics were taught. The Romans, after conquering Greece, developed the activities into a more formal sport, and they used the gymnasiums to physically prepare their legions for warfare.

It was impossible to practice gymnastics in the heavy garments which were worn during this period so the athletes took off their clothing and performed naked. These naked athletes, participating in activities such as running, throwing or wrestling, were known as “gymnasts” (this word derives from the Ancient Greek term “Gymnos”, meaning “naked”). Later the term gymnastics was used to describe all sports which were performed inside a gymnasium.

The sport of modern gymnastics really began to develop in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. In the late 1700s, a physical educator, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn of Germany, designed the now familiar apparatuses like the horizontal bar, parallel bars, side horse with pommels, balance beam and vaulting horse. Boys were taught how to perform specific activities on each different apparatus. With such technique specification, the sport of gymnastics was born. Jahn is considered the "father of modern gymnastics” since his apparatus-based gymnastics became the standard for gymnastics within both education and clubs.

The Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (International Gymnastics Federation) formed in 1891 and five years later, gymnastics was included in the first modern Olympic Games. The FIG decides upon the policy, philosophy, regulations and matters related to major events and international competitions.

Reading comprehension

1. When was the term gymnastics introduced?

2. What were some of the basic gymnastic moves performed by soldiers?

3. What did the Romans use the gymnasiums for?

4. Who were the “gymnasts”?

5. Who was Friedrich Ludwig Jahn?

6. What did Jahn design?

7. Why is he considered the “father of modern gymnastics”?

8. What is FIG?

9. What is FIG responsible for?

Enable JavaScript