The Olympic team final. Each nation puts up a series of gymnasts on each apparatus, and their combined scores determine which country is the best country of all the countries. The end.
But ’twas not always this way.
In the early years of Olympic gymnastics, the team competition did not feature individual athletes performing individual routines but rather a lengthy choreographed group presentation designed to showcase the particular physical education regime of each participating country.
Determining the rules and format to govern this group presentation, however, would become the Gutsu/Miller of its time. Two prevailing styles emerged: the German system, which included fixed apparatuses like high bar and parallel bars and rings with a more regimented style originating from a military background (so, not breaking any stereotypes here…), and the Swedish system, which favored a more calisthenic approach to physical fitness with an emphasis on stretching, flexibility, and balance.
The (now considered unofficial) 1906 Olympics in Athens and the 1908 Olympics in London hosted team competitions exclusively in the Swedish system—along with all-around competitions in the German system. In 1908’s Swedish team competition, each country was given a 30-minute performance window during which anywhere from 16 to 40 men could demonstrate “free exercises,” those with “hand apparatuses,” or any combination of the two. For the men, options for hand apparatuses included swinging clubs and wands. You know, because of the spells. Women did also perform their own Swedish gymnastics demonstrations in 1908, but only for exhibition purposes, not for medals.Continue reading It Used to Be Gymnastics: The Swedish Team Final