Rhythmic Gymnastics

This year marks the twentieth year that Rhythmic Gymnastics has been included in the Olympic Games. With the Rio Olympic Games 2016 fast approaching, Beemat takes a look below at the role of Rhythmic Gymnastics and its current status in the Olympic programme.

What is Rhythmic Gymnastics?

Rhythmic gymnastics is a women-only sport in which individual or groups of gymnasts perform on a floor accompanied by music using apparatus to include a hoop, ball, ribbon, rope, clubs and freehand (no apparatus). The sport combines elements of ballet, gymnastics and dance and each movement requires a high level of athletic skill as well as physical abilities such as  strength, power, flexibility, agility, dexterity, endurance and hand-eye co-ordination.

Rhythmic Group Gymnastics is performed by teams of five or more and includes a mixture of intricate routines using multiple apparatus at the same time.

What is the aim of Rhythmic Gymnastics?

The aim of Rhythmic Gymnastics is to wow the judges with finely choreographed routines using hand-held apparatus and a mixture of breath-taking manoeuvres covering the full area of the mat, to try and achieve the best score possible.

Why should I watch it?

Rhythmic gymnastics offers spectators a mix of grace and the perfection of gymnastic movement, combining sport with artistry and years of dedication and training to produce a spellbinding performance. Combining the elegance of the ballet with the drama of the theatre, Rhythmic Gymnastics bursts with glamour, blurring the boundaries between sport and art. Both flexibility and musical interpretation are both highly important elements in Rhythmic exercise, but it is the amount of 'risk' a gymnast takes, for example, throwing apparatus several metres in the air while performing a sequence of leaps and turns, before catching it again, that really sets apart her routine.

The history of Rhythmic Gymnastics

Rhythmic gymnastics was first recognised in 1800s, originally under the guise of group gymnastics. The discipline was founded on the visions of Jean-Georges Noverre and Francois Delsarte, using dance elements to develop aesthetic expression and grace in the human body. The sport evolved from a host of related disciplines to include elements from classical ballet such as plies and arabesques, combined with apparatus work and the Swedish method of using free exercise to develop rhythm.

The first experimental competitions appeared in Eastern Europe in the 1930s, drawing in a wide audience. The FIG recognised the movement as an official discipline in 1963, with the first international tournament taking place a year later in Budapest. The following year, in 1965, the tournament became officially known as the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships.

The number of athletes grew as interest spread across the world, and by 1973, gymnasts from the USA began to participate in the championships.

The Olympics and Rhythmic Gymnastics

Originally, Women’s Artistic Gymnastics at the Olympics included some exercises with apparatus. For example, in 1928 in Amsterdam, a team of 10 gymnasts competed on vault or rings and with group-free exercises with hand apparatus. Rhythmic group exercises with hand apparatus were also used in team competitions by women in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games. The first Olympic Games to fully include Rhythmic Gymnastics was the USA Games of 1984 where individual gymnasts alone were admitted. Rhythmic Group Gymnastics joined the programme 12 years later in 1996.

Many of the exceptional gymnasts who take part in the programme come from Eastern countries, notably Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Belarus, with competitors from these countries all producing Olympic gold medals over the past 20 years. At present, 18-year-old Yana Kudryavtseva (RUS) is dominating at the World level and is hotly tipped to take Olympic gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics this summer.

Modern day Rhythmic Gymnastics

Although originating in European countries until the 1980s, Rhythmic Gymnastics is now recognised across the world with countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Brazil all receiving Olympic medals  in more recent years. By 2010, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, China and Japan were all counted as emerging nations in the sport, spurring the creation of the 4 Continents Championships. The sport has come full circle, continuing to engage a public that continues to grow in both size and expectation.