With unforgettable displays of grace and precision, rhythmic gymnastics is the culmination of years of dedication and training poured into a intense and beautiful few minutes. Since 1984, rhythmic gymnastics has been included in the Summer Olympic games. Combining the elements of gymnastics, ballet and dance, rythmic gymnastics can involve individuals or groups of five or more. Gymnasts can compete freehand or with various apparatus including clubs, hoop, ball, ribbon and rope. The victor is determined by whoever scores the most points on the “Code of Points” scale determined by the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique, which is the official governing body of gymnastic competition.
In the individual competition, each gymnast performs a routine lasting between 75 and 90 seconds on a 13m x 13m square mat. Most victors are expected to execute a variety of balances, pirouettes and apparatus techniques in addition to skillful execution. Moreover, the performer must have artistic choreography that covers the entire floor and demonstrate flexibility and athletic skill. On highlight of the routine is the stag roll, a jump with the leading leg flexed and the trailing leg extended, all with the body bent backwards. A retro roll with the hoops is where the hoop is spun in any direction and then returns to the gymnast like a boomerang.
Like synchronized swimming, Olympic rhythmic gymnastics is only for female participants. A culture of male rhythmic gymnastics exists, but it is not recognized at an Olympic level yet. Gymnasts can compete in the Olympics at age 16, but other countries and organizations have competitions for younger participants.
Rhythmic gymnastics has been popular in Eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union. These countries also dominate in competitions. Bulgaria, in particular, has reached great heights with the sport. Bulgarian Bianka Panova became the first rhythmic gymnast to make a clean sweep of all five individual events at a World Championship when she attained perfect marks. Her perfect performance also led to her becoming the first rhythmic gymnast to get into the Guinness Book of Records. Although recently individual Bulgarians have not fared well in competition, Bulgaria still has a strong culture and legacy in the sport. During the past few decades, Russia has enjoyed dominance in the sport. Since 1996, when the sport had its debut in the Summer Olympics, the Russian group team has won four of the last five Olympic competitions.
In the regular gymnastics competition, Russian gymnasts have accumulated eight gold medals, two silvers and one bronze since 2000. However, a Canadian, Lori Fung, took the sport’s first ever Olympic Gold in 1984. As a double Olympic champion and holder of 17 world titles, Russia’s Evgeniya Kanaeva retired in 2012, at age 22. This means the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro this summer will result in a new star chasing the gold.
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