Let the Games Begin

The Opening Ceremony kicked off the official start of the 2016 Rio Olympics this past weekend, so it's only fitting that I write my blog on what I believe to be the most challenging, yet graceful sport - gymnastics. When I was six years old, my mother put me in gymnastics classes. I presume the deciding factor was me using the end of her brand new sofa as a vault.

Gymnastics was invented in Ancient Greece. It focused on strengthening both the mind and the body, and was mostly used to prepare soldiers for war. Gymnastics, and the equipment used, has advanced over the years to keep up with the gymnasts' safety and performance. There are four events for women gymnastics - uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise, and vault.



The uneven bars used to be made out of red oak wood with a steel core running through the center but changed to fiberglass with wood coating. A standard bar must have a diameter of 4 centimeters, the low bar set around 5 feet high, and the high bar around 8-9’ high. The distance between them ranges from four feet to approximately six feet, and can be brought closer by adjusting the tension cables mounted into the ground.

In the late 18th century tree trunks were used to help gymnasts with balance. Over the years, the balance beam was widened from 8 cm wide to 10 cm, and padding was added for safety as more challenging skills began to be incorporated into routines. The beam spans 16 feet in length and four feet high off the floor. The fabric used is either leather or suede to prevent slipping.


The floor exercise is about 40 feet long by 40 feet wide. The top layer is usually a carpet with a white marking around the perimeter. If the gymnast steps outside of this border, points are deducted from their scores. 

Underneath the carpet is a 2” layer of foam followed by 5//8” plywood with 2”x4” springs underneath. The springs were added to give the gymnast height and momentum but to help reduce injury during difficult landings.


The biggest change in equipment that we have seen in gymnastics history is the vault. Due to the vaults narrow construction many gymnasts had a difficult time placing their hands on the vault which led to many wrist, knee, and ankle injuries during mounting and dismounting. During the 80’s and 90’s gymnasts were performing harder skills, and by 2003 the new vaulting table was the standard vault for both men's and women's gymnastics. The new vault had a slight incline and more cushioning which helped the gymnasts have more control of their bodies. The larger area gave gymnasts the confidence to perform harder skills and more room for error in case their hand placement was slightly off.

I was able to experience the change in gymnastics equipment over the years and it made me more confident to pursue harder, more ambitious skills. At a young age, I always took baby steps the closer I got to the spring board for my vault exercise, and smashed my body into the horse (vault) due to my own fear. However, I was not alone. Many of the gymnasts on my team shared the same fear. Once I started to compete on the new vault, I had less fear and able to start mastering harder skills.

Gymnastics is a very tough and demanding sport that requires a lot of patience and hard work. In gymnastics, in order to move to a more challenging skill, you have to master the easy skills first. These skills require many years to master so gymnasts learn early on that the words “I can't” bring on an endless amount of push-ups from coaches. The sport of gymnastics and it complexity has been constantly evolving over the years and the equipment has to keep up with this change in order to keep injuries low.

Hope you all enjoy the summer Olympics.


Darlene Miller
— Designer