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August 13, 2008 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Why the different events in women and men gymnastics?

This has been somewhat bothering me, but I was wondering what the reasoning was for splitting the events between the men and women in gymnastics. Why don't men do the balance beam, or the women do the high bar, among other things? Is there a practical reasoning behind the splitting of these events? A historical one? I know this was lightly touched on previously, but I was hoping I could get a more detailed answer to this.
posted by Weebot to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Women's events rely more heavily on leg strength. Men's events rely more on arm and shoulder strength.

It isn't really possible for a woman to develop the kind of musculature that's required to do rings or pommel horse without using drugs.

The only event which is nominally the same is floor exercise, but if you watch the kinds of moves they make even in that event, you'll see the men doing things (like press-to-a-handstand) which women cannot do at all, let alone at a competitive level.

Men gymnasts have highly developed pecs, lats, triceps and deltoids. Female gymnasts (i.e. girls, because women aren't competitive) don't develop those muscles to the same extent.
posted by Class Goat at 12:26 AM on August 13, 2008


As class goat says, It comes down to the contrast between the physical differences. Men have the raw upper body strength, and though male gymnasts are amazingly supple, they don't compare to the flexibility of the teen girls that compete in female gymnastics. This is also why older women are rare in gymnastics, they just don't have the agility to compete with the younger girls on average.

compare the different leg swinging moves on uneven bars for girls, and the upper-body strength examples on the parallel bars for men.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:13 AM on August 13, 2008


Although it has some broken English, this page has a really good history of all the apparatuses. For instance, "When the German female gymnasts carried out their first national championships in Leibzig in 1921, there was gymnastics on high bar, parallel bars and vault, but no gymnastics on beam."

Also consider that the events were in their current form all the way back to the 1952 Olympics, a very different time in terms of equality between the sexes. Men were strong and women were graceful so why should do they the same events?
posted by smackfu at 7:19 AM on August 13, 2008


Would it really be impossible for boys to do the balance beam?
posted by phrontist at 7:32 AM on August 13, 2008


Would it really be impossible for boys to do the balance beam?

Not impossible, but after a few competitions, the boys wouldn't be boys anymore.
posted by notyou at 7:41 AM on August 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


There is also an interesting discussion about the evolution of gymnastics scoring here in Metafilter. Among other things, it is discussed how women's events are starting have more power-based moves (on bars and floor) and are looking more like men's routines.
posted by Pax at 7:42 AM on August 13, 2008


Would it really be impossible for boys to do the balance beam?

There isn't anything the girls do in gymnastics that men couldn't do, but the men already have 6 events (to 4 for the girls) and don't need any more. It's difficult enough to prepare for those 6.

Women used to compete in the Olympics in gymnastics. If you go back and look at pictures of women's gymnastics teams in the 1956 Olympics, you'll see something you never see anymore: breasts.
posted by Class Goat at 7:59 AM on August 13, 2008


it is discussed how women's events are starting have more power-based moves (on bars and floor) and are looking more like men's routines.

I noticed this during the uneven-bars routines last night. Especially compared to, say, Nadia Comaneci's routine which achieved a perfect 10 in 1976, the routines now look more like high-bar routines, with only a the shortest required elements on the lower bar.
posted by muddgirl at 8:38 AM on August 13, 2008


Would it really be impossible for boys to do the balance beam?

That's not the right question though. The right questions to explain a difference are: (1) why did it start out different, and (2) why should it have changed since then. Why did it start out different? It seems like all the original men's gymnastics sports were based on raw strength, not agility like balance beam. Like they had rope climbing. Why should it change? Class Goat answered this part above.
posted by smackfu at 9:25 AM on August 13, 2008


This is also why older women are rare in gymnastics, they just don't have the agility to compete with the younger girls on average.

I wanted to comment on this. Different sports emphasize different physical characteristics. Soccer emphasizes stamina. Basketball emphasizes height. We all know what jockeys look like.

Gymnastics emphasizes strength-to-weight ratio almost to the exclusion of all else. That's why the men gymnasts are all short, rarely more than 5'6". A man who is 6 feet tall can pack on more muscle than a shorter man, but he also weighs more and his arms and legs will be longer. The effective strength-to-weight ratio is lower for a bigger man even if he is absolutely stronger.

The reason that girls out-compete women is that any female who's gone through puberty has had changes made to her body which, however esthetically pleasing and biologically important they may be, are dead weight when it comes to gymnastic competition. It is possible for a woman to be just as agile and flexible as a girl, but no woman can achieve the strength-to-weight ratio of a girl.

On the other side of the coin, no boy can achieve the kind of strength-to-weight ratio of a man, and that's why the title "Men's gymnastics" is not the ironic joke that "Women's gymnastics" has become. (The Olympic rules require the girls to be 16, and there's a bit of a scandal this year in that the Chinese girls all look much younger than that. The Chinese are claiming they're all 16 but no one else believes it.)

Because of the kind of training the girls do, and in particular because their body fat level is so low, puberty is often delayed for them. I've heard that Kathy Rigby Mason said that she didn't have her first period until she was in her mid-20's, after she'd stopped competing.

Track and Field events emphasize absolute strength much more than strength-to-weight, and that's why women have it all over girls in track events.
posted by Class Goat at 9:53 AM on August 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


Would it really be impossible for boys to do the balance beam?

Following on from this, is it really impossible for women to do a press-to-a-handstand? I know women do not have the same upper body strength as men but are there some degrees of strength that they absolutely cannot acheive?
posted by triggerfinger at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2008


(Oops: s/Kathy Rigby Mason/Cathy Rigby/)
posted by Class Goat at 10:56 AM on August 13, 2008


Press-to-handstand, a la XX.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Following on from this, is it really impossible for women to do a press-to-a-handstand?
Female gymnasts regularly use a press-to-a-handstand as a balance beam mount. I don't remember the exact physiology involved, but I do remember reading many years ago why men wouldn't do well on the balance beam - something about skeletal structure and their center of balance versus young women of the same age. One consideration is that young boys go through growth spurts at ages 12-15, and sometimes their feet grow faster than the rest of their bodies. Huge clodhoppers would be a handicap while trying to negotiate the balance beam.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:07 PM on August 13, 2008


Re "press to a handstand" it would seem I'm using the wrong term. What I'm talking about is a case where the gymnast starts standing on his hands, but with his elbows bent more than 90 degrees. He then pushes himself upwards until his arms are straight.

I don't believe that a woman can do that. (Few men can.)
posted by Class Goat at 12:30 PM on August 13, 2008


Would it really be impossible for boys to do the balance beam?

No -- back when I was coaching I regularly got up on the beam myself to help some of the girls get over fear of the thing. Bigger feet and a higher center of gravity do put guys at a disadvantage up there, so it would probably take a completely different build of athlete to do well -- a skilled skate/snowboarder like Shawn White could probably handle himself on a beam just fine, for instance.
posted by Pufferish at 1:14 PM on August 13, 2008


Class Goat is this what you're thinking of? It's along the lines of what I was thinking.

It makes me think of the annual physical fitness tests we used to have to take in gym when we were young. Boys had to see how many pull ups they could complete in a certain amount of time. Girls didn't even have to do a pull up, we just had to be able to hold our chin on the bar for as long as we could and even then, no one could do it for more than probably two seconds.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:04 PM on August 13, 2008


Triggerfinger, something like that, yeah. Actually, what I've seen, the gymnast has his head tilted back so that it isn't on the ground, and the body is slanted a bit, pivoted around and balanced on the shoulders, which are held up by bent arms. The hands are the only thing that touch the mat.

From there, the gymnast pushes up to a normal handstand. Doing that requires immense strength in the deltoids and triceps.

There's a similar move you sometimes see in parallel bars, where the gymnast does a handstand on the bars, then lowers himself until his head is below his hands, then goes back up again.
posted by Class Goat at 2:54 PM on August 13, 2008


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