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A Practice in Perfection

At the 1976 Summer Olympics, 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci’s gracefully executed routine on the asymmetric bar left international viewers stunned.  Judges awarded her an unprecedented first of four perfect scores, a ten of ten. At such an early age, her focus and dedication were clearly demonstrated. Gymnastics is a complex sport involving many disciplines that promote self-confidence, physical strength, alertness, and daring. It is a tool used to sharpen one's mental and physical capabilities.

In Ancient Greece, warriors from Sparta performed pyrrhic dances in military style (the same name is used to describe a metrical foot of poetry, two unaccented, quick, and brash syllables). Spartans performed these dances naked and with accompanying weaponry.  In Athens, however, these war dances, which were performed during the final year of a soldier's training, were combined with corresponding mental training. The latter practice promoted more aesthetic and individual forms of movement which would later be incorporated into the burgeoning sport.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, German educators Friedrich Ludwig Jahn and his partner Johann Friedrich Guts Muths choreographed exercises for boys and young men. They performed on apparatus that led to modern day gymnastics. In the following years, rings, high bars,and parallel bars were new gymnastic terms used in international competition. 
Today the most popular and practiced forms of artistic gymnastics are divided into men's and women's categories,the latter recognized and accepted 40 years after the celebration of the first modern Olympic Games. Men compete in six artistic gymnastic events: the floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, the vault, parallel bars and high bars. Women participate in four main artistic events: the vault, the uneven bars, the balance beam, and the floor exercise.

Athletes and students from across the globe, some beginning as early as 20 months, continue to push the boundaries of physical and mental capabilities. Niels Bukh's Fundamental Gymnastics affords simple introductions and practices to all levels of participants, and Mathias Roth's Gymnastic Exercises  without Apparatus proves that the sport is not defined by the space used to practice, but rather the diversity of practice methods. Champions like Nastia Liukin, Viktor Chukarin (the Soviet gymnast who won Olympic golds in 1956 after being taken as a prisoner of war), and Sawao Kato (one of the most decorated Olympic athletes of all time--he took home 15 of 21 individual medals in the 1972 Summer Olympics) exhibit the perfect balance of practice and risk, execution and fluidity. They marry physical and mental endurance with unparalleled grace, and prove that the sport of gymnastics is practice in perfection.

By Logan Williams

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