When I was a kid my Mom was notorious for telling me how rough it was for her growing up. Apparently she walked to school uphill both ways in 5 feet of snow all year long. Hearing this, my comment was “you went to school in the summer?” Missing the point completely but honing my talents as a “smarty pants.”
As a coach I tell my gymnasts about a time when I was younger that the floor mat was not 6 inches thick (4 inch springs and 1.5 inches of soft matting) but a 1 inch thick wrestling mat on a wood floor. Some of our tumbling was done on, what we called, horse hair mats, gray, formless, vinyl with a mystery substance that offered no support inside it. Granted I didn’t do the girl’s events; but beam was wood and had no padding at all (today they are aluminum and have padding as well as reflexive springs) and the bars were oval shaped and so close together that you could hang on the high bar and “beat” your hips on the low bar. Speaking of “beats”; gymnasts would swing and wrap their hips around the bar at full force. If the bar was not adjusted right it would hit the abdomen or the top of the thighs, and according to the girl gymnasts I knew, either of these would hurt badly and almost always cause bruising. Bars now are round, to make swinging easier, are made of graphite to allow flexibility and are so far apart that a gymnast could be able to swing, straight body, between them. No more beating! (Insert here a collective sigh of relief from all women who recall the dark ages of gymnastics).
As far as men’s equipment, there hasn’t been as much evolution. The bars are more flexible, the floor is sprung, but the pommel horse is still the same old torture device (said affectionately) as ever. The rings had evolved to “Still Rings” back in the late 60s, before my time, but it’s fun to see the old days of the “Flying Rings.” In the video, watch the tricks these guys perform, notice the spotters and check out the landing surface. If I didn’t see it with my own eyes…. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5mgUoIcvr4]
Today’s gymnastics is as far evolutionarily from gymnastics of the 60s/70s as the Hummingbird is from the T-Rex. Today gymnasts tumble on floor made to dissipate landing force to save ankles, knees and backs. The apparatuses are designed to allow softer landings too, as well as more efficient use of technique. In changing the equipment to be “safer” to the body, we have also upped the ante and developed harder, more complicated and more risky skills at the highest level. If you watched Nadia Comaneci’s 10.0 beam routine from the late 70’s you would be amazed to find that the skills she is performing are done today by little girls in the earlier stages of team athlete development.
I know, that when my team girls are older, they will tell their grand children about how hard gymnastics was when they were younger. Grandma will sit, surrounded by the grand-kids “We didn’t have the hover-beam and the gel-floor, and we only had 4″ springs!” Stupified, the children sit with eyes widened. One brave youngster, a smarty-pants, responds: “Grandma, did you ride a dinosaur to practice too?”