The Early Years of Gymnastics

People have been doing gymnastics for a long time. Early civilizations in China, Persia, Japan, and Egypt had citizens who did balancing and tumbling acts.  People in the Greek Civilization first used the word ‘gymnastics’. This was around the fourth century B.C.  Gymnastics in Greek translates to ‘exercises performed naked.’

Of course, the Greeks didn’t perform on modern apparatus.  They considered gymnastics more of a way of training athletes.  It involved things like wrestling, boxing, discus-throwing, and other physical exercises.A German man named Freidrich Jahn developed much of modern gymnastics.  His nickname was the ‘Father of Gymnastics.’  Around 1811, he taught boys and men gymnastics in an open field, called a Turnplaz.  He wanted to bring out a love for freedom for these young men, and make them physically fit. 

People called the men Jahn trained Turners or Turn Verien.  They brought gymnastics to the United States around 1824. They began teaching gymnastics in schools, and started the first gymnasiums in the United States.


1956 Bars
It is hard to say who invented modern gymnastics equipment.  Many people feel that Jahn invented the parallel bars in 1812.  He made the horizontal bar popular, but it had been around for a long time.  He also used jumping boards in 1817. The Roman cavalry may have used wooden horses in 375 B.C. to practice getting on and off horses.  A Swedish man named P. Ling invented the vaulting box.  Many European gymnasts practiced balancing on the edge of a board, or beam, or any narrow, flat surface.  Gymnasts didn’t use mats much in the early years.  Most of the practice was on grass.  When gymnasts moved inside to practice, they used stuffed sacks as mats. Sometimes they sprained their ankles because the stuffing was uneven.

The uneven bars have changed the most in the last 100 years.  First women used to do routines on the parallel bars.  Then they started raising one of the bars.  But the routines were slow and more like ballet between the bars.  In 1966 at the World Championships, Doris Fuchs Brause did a routine that flowed between the bars.  This set a new standard.  Doris trained for several years at the Seattle YMCA under George Lewis.