Rhythmic and artistic gymnastics explained

Find out about rhythmic and artistic gymnastics, including the events, scoring systems and Olympic legends.
Gymnast Samuel Mikulak performs a handstand on the parallel bars with his legs split into a horizontal position.
Gymnast Samuel Mikulak performs a handstand on the parallel bars with his legs split into a horizontal position.Gymnast Samuel Mikulak performs a handstand on the parallel bars with his legs split into a horizontal position.

Dynamic and elegant, Olympic gymnastics is a heart-pounding spectacle. The sport is divided into three branches: artistic, rhythmic and trampoline.

Get to grips with all the rules of rhythmic gymnastics and artistic gymnastics ahead of Tokyo 2020 with our quick guide.

What is artistic gymnastics?

Introduced in 1894, artistic gymnastics was one of the original disciplines in the modern Olympic Games. Artistic gymnasts are challenged to perfect their skills across a range of equipment, such as the beam and performing on the floor. We’ll expand on the details for the men’s and women’s tournaments below.

Women’s artistic gymnastics

In women’s artistic gymnastics, there are four core events:

Beam. Putting balance and precision to the test, gymnasts perform a series of turns, flips and jumps on a foam-padded balance beam, around four feet from the floor, five metres long, and just 10 centimetres wide.

Simone Biles performs a flip on the balance beam at the Rio Olympic Games 2016.
Simone Biles performs a flip on the balance beam at the Rio Olympic Games 2016.Simone Biles performs a flip on the balance beam at the Rio Olympic Games 2016.

springboard to launch themselves into the air. They must hit the table with both of their hands and perform a variety of airborne twists and saltos. The most difficult vault is called the Produnova and is rarely attempted – even at the Olympics.

Uneven bars. In the women’s tournament, the uneven bars are the ultimate test of upper body strength. Competitors need to perform a variety of swings and twists on the low and high bars. They must also transition between the two, soaring six feet through the air, before dismounting and landing with their feet neatly together.

At Montreal 1976, Nadia Comaneci achieved the first ever perfect score for her Olympic performance on the uneven bars.

Floor exercise. Combining dance, gymnastics and drama, each competitor performs a 90-second routine to music. Using the sprung floor to help them gain height, the gymnasts must execute a range of specified moves including tumbles, leaps and pirouettes. Watch the highlights of the women’s floor exercises final at Rio 2016, including Simone Biles’ near-perfect performance.

At the Olympics, there are also medals for the team competition and the individual all-around women. These two events are designed to test the gymnasts’ skills on all four pieces of equipment. The rules state that only two gymnasts per country can enter the all-around women’s event.

Men’s artistic gymnastics

There are a greater number of events on the men’s artistic gymnastics programme – eight in total – across six pieces of equipment:

Rings. Holding on to two rings, gymnasts lift and hold their body in gravity-defying positions to gain points. The Maltese Cross is considered one of the most difficult moves, where gymnasts hold their body horizontally with their arms outstretched parallel to their body.

Gymnast Yang Liu holds his body upside down in a cross shape with his legs pointing up and his arms stretched out horizontally holding the rings.
Gymnast Yang Liu holds his body upside down in a cross shape with his legs pointing up and his arms stretched out horizontally holding the rings.Gymnast Yang Liu holds his body upside down in a cross shape with his legs pointing up and his arms stretched out horizontally holding the rings.

Vault. This event is the same as the women’s programme. Watch the action unfold at the men’s vault final at London 2012.

Pommel horse. Notoriously difficult to master, gymnasts have to use their arms and upper body strength to support their weight on the horse as they swing their legs around in fluid, flowing motions. Watch the Olympic highlights of Great Britain’s Louis Smith – gold medallist and pommel horse virtuoso.

Horizontal bar. Gymnasts must perform swings, turns and a complex dismount on one bar, approximately nine feet in the air. Watch all the flips, falls and triumphs from Rio 2016 in this highlights video.

Parallel bars. Using their upper body strength, gymnasts need to execute a series of swings and flight moves on two parallel bars. The most challenging manoeuvres are when the gymnast loses sight of the poles for a split-second.

Floor exercise. In the men’s floor exercise event, there is greater emphasis on acrobatics than in the women’s event. Watch the men’s floor exercise final at Rio 2016.

Two additional events test the overall skill of the male gymnasts, with Olympic medals in the team competition and individual all-around men as well. As with the women’s, only two male gymnasts from each competing country can enter the all-around event.

How is artistic gymnastics scored?

Gymnasts are awarded a D score for difficulty and an E score for execution.

·      The difficulty score is based on the performed moves, earning between 0.1 and 0.8 points per move.

·      The top eight moves are counted for women, and top 10 for men, to give them their final D score.

·      For the vault, it’s simply the score associated with the vault move.

·      For their E score, every gymnast starts with the perfect 10.0 score, with points deducted for any mistakes.

·      The gymnast with the highest combined D and E score wins.

·      The gymnast with the highest combined score from all events wins the all-around event.

What is rhythmic gymnastics?

Olympic rhythmic gymnastics is a female-only event that uses apparatus to showcase skill, flexibility and musicality, and made its Olympic debut in Los Angeles for the 1984 Games. There are just two categories: individual all-around women and group all-around women. Find out everything you need to know about the sport in this video guide to rhythmic gymnastics.

All-around women’s event

Gymnast Daria Kondakova balances a golden ball in the curve of her back as she performs a handstand with her legs split in a horizontal position.
Gymnast Daria Kondakova balances a golden ball in the curve of her back as she performs a handstand with her legs split in a horizontal position.Gymnast Daria Kondakova balances a golden ball in the curve of her back as she performs a handstand with her legs split in a horizontal position.

Each gymnast must perform choreographed routines using each of the following four pieces of apparatus:

·      Ball

·      Hoop

·      Clubs

·      Ribbon

Until 2013, gymnasts could also perform with rope. However, this apparatus has been phased out, leaving just four to choose from. Whichever equipment the gymnast uses, the principle remains the same: they must keep the apparatus moving at all times, creating a flowing routine to music.

Alina Kabaeva of Russia is one of rhythmic gymnastics’ greats, leaping onto the Olympic stage at Sydney 2000, where she won bronze in the individual all-around women’s event. Four years later, she returned to the Olympic floor in Athens, where she took home the gold.

All-around group event

The team event consists of five gymnasts, two performances and two different sets of apparatus. In the first routine, the gymnasts must all use the same props, and in the second, they can use a mixed selection. These performances combine gymnastic skill, huge throws and captivating performance. Watch the Ukranian team perform to Vogue by Madonna in this Rio replay.

How is Olympic rhythmic gymnastics scored?

Gymnast Aline Kavaeva performs a jump with her legs bent upwards, her feet pointing up and her back bent towards the floor .
Gymnast Aline Kavaeva performs a jump with her legs bent upwards, her feet pointing up and her back bent towards the floor .Gymnast Aline Kavaeva performs a jump with her legs bent upwards, her feet pointing up and her back bent towards the floor .

As with artistic gymnastics, performances in rhythmic gymnastics are given a maximum score of 20, comprising difficulty (D) and execution (E) scores.

·      The D score is based on each element of the performance including leaps, jumps and use of apparatus. These D scores are averaged to give a score out of 10.

·      The E score is based on how well the routine was executed either by the individual or the group. The final number is an average of the middle three scores awarded by the judges.

·      The D and E scores are combined at this stage, giving a mark out of 20. Then, any deductions are taken away. The list of instant deductions is incredibly long and complex in rhythmic gymnastics. Competitors can be penalised for anything from breaking the apparatus to landing heavily on their feet.

Catch all the incredible gymnastics action on the Olympic Channel. Browse our video library to watch rhythmic gymnastics and artistic gymnastics performed to the highest standard. If you’re a fan of both, why not explore the world of Olympic trampoline.

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