History Tuesday

Here is a brief article on the “history of gymnastics”. But on a larger scale, I love this stuff and I think it’s cool to look at some of the names from the past, many of the names of people are attached to skills we teach today. So this one is for you history buffs:

Rings circa 1928, notice the lack of matting

In the city of St. Louis there is a huge monument to FreidrichJahn, known as the father of modern gymnastics and physical education. The monument was built during the St. Louis World’s Fair and in context it was a memorial to a German man who had a huge part in developing any form of fitness or training as we know it today. Sadly time has eclipsed the honor of the man’s statue and it’s now just another monument in a park. But Jahn was responsible for training teachers to train athletes. Many of the equipment used in modern gymnastics, including the Rings, have their roots back to him.

The rings were developed in the mid 1800’s and made of triangular iron rings on the end of long hemp ropes. When tournaments in gymnastics became popular in the 19th century, the swinging rings dominated. However in the international championship in Antwerp (Belgium) in 1903, (which was posthumously declared the first World Championships in history) the rings appeared in triangular and round forms. As late as the 1920’s it was still a point of contention whether rings should be performed as swinging or still, and so up until then and  in most cases competitions would just eliminate the apparatus all together. Well in the 20’s the Germans decided that swinging rings would be the standard.

No article about rings would be complete without Jordan Jovtschev, still winning medals today at age 38

The skill everyone knows when they think about the rings is the Iron Cross. It was first performed by a Slovenian named Leon Stukelj, who achieved the Gold medal and who was the first to do what was called a “head cross” with horizontal arms….swinging.

Albert Asaryan performs an Olympic cross

In 1936 the equipment was modified to include leather straps because the force at the bottom of a swing was 7-8 times the weight of the body and hemp just wasn’t strong enough. Evolutionary changes between the athletic power elements and fast swing techniques began to appear after the introduction of the giant circles with stretched arms (1960s), which are also called “Voronin circles”, from their inventor Mikhail Voronin, today we just call them Giants, but not to worry, there is still a skill called a Voronin on bars. The  giants on rings gave serious difficulty to dismounting, yet gymnasts pushed the envelope and we saw the first double  somersault backward by Eberhard Gienger(who is today an international judge) at the European Championships in 1971.

as a tradition Geinger, now a judge, performs giants to warm up the crowd. He is 60 years old.

Today the Still Rings are staple in men’s gymnastics. I personally have never competed on rings, (too hard and I was too weak) but I had great admiration for those who did. Since those early days of swinging triangular rings, the event has become much safer but much more difficult. Rings now are made of fiberglass or layers of wood, still strapped but now they hang from often spring-loaded pistons to reduce the forces on giant swings. Though the equipment was made safer the routines are much more difficult. Watch this routine by Jordan Jovtschev below, we’ve come a long way since the “head cross”.


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