Gymnastics is thought to have began in ancient Greece about 2500 years ago where it was used in training to keep fit for sporting activities. In the Greek city of Athens, gymnastic tournaments were held, including tumbling, rope climbing, and other similar activities.

The gymnasium was the hub of cultural activity. Men met there not only to practice sport, but to understand art, music and philosophy. The Greeks believed symmetry between the mind and body was possible only when physical exercise was coupled with intellectual activity. Because of their love for these tournaments, the Athenians sponsored the ancient Olympic Games. When the Roman’s conquered Greece, they found that gymnastics was very valuable in their military training. But after the fall of the Roman Empire, gymnastics vanished for hundreds of years.

Today, gymnastics is often termed the ultimate combination of sport and art, but the idea is nothing new. Plato, Homer and Aristotle strongly advocated the strengthening qualities of gymnastic activity.

The term “artistic gymnastics” emerged in the early 1800s to distinguish between free-flowing styles from the techniques used by the military. Although viewed as a novelty sport by many, gymnastics competitions began to flourish in schools, athletic clubs and various organizations across Europe in the 1880s. When the Olympic movement was resurrected at Athens in 1896, gymnastics was one of the first sports included.

The early Olympic Games featured some gymnastic disciplines which could hardly be called “artistic”, however. Rope climbing, tumbling and club swinging were some of the events that failed to survive the refining process. At the World Championships, 1st held in Antwerp in 1903, field events such as the pole vault, broad jump and shot-put even featured every now and then until 1954. Swimming appeared once, at the 1922 championships.

The Olympic program began to settle in 1924, with men competing for individual medals and in team events on each apparatus. 4 years later, women began competing in Olympic gymnastics at Amsterdam. By 1952, the Soviet Union had become the leading country in Olympic gymnastics, its profile rising slowly after a group of social reformers – including playwright Anton Chekhov – formed the Russian Gymnastic Federation in 1883.

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