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Gymnastics Rules & Regulations

Gymnastics is an enthralling spectator sport and one of the most popular events in the summer Olympic Games. Here is a short synopsis of the rules and regulations to help fans and participants recognize details of the sport and get a better understanding of what gymnasts go through in competition.

Gymnasts

There are five distinct sports under the umbrella of gymnastics:

  1. Artistic gymnastics (the most well-known event that includes both men’s and women’s individual performances)
  2. Rhythmic gymnastics
  3. Acrobatic gymnastics
  4. Aerobic gymnastics
  5. Trampoline

Each sport has its own set of rules and regulations.

Artistic Gymnastics

In artistic gymnastics, men and women each compete in a different set of events. Women compete on four apparatuses: vault, balance beam, uneven parallel bars and the floor exercise. Men perform in six events, including the vault, parallel bars, pommel horse, horizontal bar, still rings, and floor exercise.

Each exercise is unique and each requires specific skills. In all the events, there are mandatory skills that must be incorporated into the routine. These skills vary depending on the level of gymnast and the apparatus, but can range from pirouettes on the balance beam to men’s strength holds on the still rings.

Artistic gymnastics is broken into 10 levels. Levels 1-3 are developmental and levels 4-10 are competitive. Levels 4-6 must perform compulsory (mandatory) routines in competition. Level 7-10 gymnasts will perform optional routines that are designed by the gymnast and her coach. Once a gymnast is at level 10, he or she is considered elite and able to compete on the national and international stage.

Scoring

For over 80 years, gymnastics was based on a point scale that ranged from one to ten. However in the 1990s the rules were adjusted and each routine was given a start value based on its level of difficulty, making the infamous “perfect ten” more difficult to achieve. Then in 2005, the rules changed once again due to a scoring controversy in the 2004 Olympic Games. (For more details about the controversy, see iSport.com’s History of Gymnastics)

After the 2004 Olympic debacle, the FIG scrapped the old one to ten scoring range for a new, more complicated judging procedure. The new scoring methods include an evaluation of both the difficulty of the routine and the execution.

The degree of difficulty is decided by the skills performed by the gymnast. Each routine starts at a difficulty of zero. Points are then added for each skill, which can range from A (easy) to F (very difficult). (For example, a back handspring is considered an easy skill and is given a value of A that is worth one tenth of a point.) Each level (A through F) increases by one tenth. Required elements add a maximum of 2.5 points to the score with bonus points given if difficult elements are strung together in a routine.

Most elite gymnasts have a difficulty ranging from the high six’s to the low sevens.

Two panels of judges are present during competition: Two “A” panel judges that determine the technical difficulty and six “B” panel judges that judge the execution and artistry of the routine. The execution score starts at 10 and points are deducted with each error. (For example a fall off the balance beam results in a 1.0 point deduction.)

The difficulty and execution points are added together to give a combined score. A good score in this new system is around the mid to high 16 point range.

What the Judges Look For

Judges look for certain elements and technical skills when a gymnast competes.

  • Form: Tight legs, pointed toes, flexibility and proper body positioning.
  • Height and Distance: The vertical height and distance covered when executing moves off all the apparatuses to show power, strength, and control.
  • Stuck Landing: The less movement the better; feet should remain planted once a landing is completed.
  • Individuality and routine creativity: A routine with unique, artistic, or acrobatic components.

Rhythmic Gymnastics

Rhythmic gymnastics is a women’s sport. This sport requires flexibility, grace, and ballet-like movements all while simultaneously using a variety of apparatus. It is performed on the floor to music with a routine length of less than 1.5 minutes for individual routines and less than 2.5 minutes for group routines.

There are five events in rhythmic gymnastics: Hoop, ball, rope, ribbon, and clubs.

During each routine the five apparatuses must be in continuous motion. Judges look for a variety in the shapes of the movement of the apparatus, great amplitude, direction, and speed. The apparatus must be used in a variety of ways and the relationship between the gymnast and tool must be in constant motion.

Acrobatic Gymnastics

Acrobatic gymnastics was officially recognized by the FIG in 1999. It is a sport that both men and women perform on the floor and requires strength and control of the body while in different positions, both in the air and on the ground. All routines are performed to music and are placed in one of five categories:

  1. Women’s
  2. Men’s
  3. Mixed Pairs
  4. Women’s group (3 gymnasts)
  5. Men’s group (4 gymnasts)

Each routine is given a time limit of 2.5 minutes. Judges are looking for a string of gymnastic movements (somersaults, saltos), plus choreography, holds, throws and catches, all performed in perfect synchronization.

Aerobic Gymnastics

Aerobic gymnastics was added to the FIG regime in 1995, for both men and women. It originates from traditional aerobic dance, and therefore combines aerobic activity with displays of gymnastics movements on the floor. Gymnasts must perform continuous high intensity performance patterns to music in routines lasting 1 minute-50 seconds.

The routine must include the seven basic aerobic steps: March, jog, skip, knee lift, kick, jack, and lunge. It also must include at least one element from each of the four designated categories: strength, static strength, jumps, leaps and flexibility, and balance. The routine may include a maximum of 12 elements.

There are four categories of competition: women’s individual, men’s individuals, mixed pairs, trios, and group (six gymnasts).

Trampoline

In 1999, trampoline became an official category of FIG gymnastics. In 2000, it became a certified Olympic sport. Trampoline is performed by both men and women and has four competitive categories: individual, synchronized, double mini and tumbling.

Individual

In individual trampoline (the only recognized Olympic sport), gymnasts must perform a series of continuously forward, backward and twisting rotations without hesitation or straight jumps in-between. The body needs to be in the center of the trampoline mat with the legs together and toes pointed at all times. At the culmination of the routine, gymnasts must land in a vertical standing position, without movement for a minimum of three seconds.

In competition there are three routines performed: first exercise, voluntary exercise, and final. Each routine is comprised of ten elements—the more difficult the elements, the higher the score. Final scores are determined after both the degree of difficulty and the execution of the routine are evaluated.

Synchronized

Synchronized trampoline is similar to individual except with two gymnasts on two separate trampolines, performing identical routines. Judges evaluate the synchronization of the gymnasts, the difficulty of the routine and each gymnast’s respective execution of the included elements.

Double Mini

Double mini routines are performed on small trampolines. Gymnasts take a running approach to the mini trampoline and perform various tricks off the trampoline onto a mat; the more difficult the trick, the greater the execution, and the better the landing—the higher the score.

Tumbling

Tumbling is categorized under the umbrella of trampoline, even though it does not involve the actual apparatus. Gymnasts must instead perform multiple tumbling executions down a 25-foot long elevated spring runway. Eight tumbling executions are required in each routine and must occur in succession, without hesitation. The routine ends with a large dismount onto a mat behind the runway. Judges look for good control, form, and an even tempo throughout all eight skills. To get a high score, the gymnast must stick the landing.

More Resources

International gymnastics Federation
USA Gymnastics

Under the umbrella of gymnastics, there are five distinct sports. Learn the various rules and regulations involved in each competitive sport.
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