The original balance beam was for men and women practicing balancing skills? It was 64 feet long and 10 inches wide!
Compared to today’s spring floor that beam was 22 feet longer! Compared to today’s vault runway that’s 18 feet shorter!
Of course, todays beam is only 4 inches wide, so the mega beam of yesteryear was 6inches wider, a whole half foot!
Imagine what you could do on a beam that’s 64 feet long and 10 inches wide! Now, imagine what Simone Biles could do on a beam with those dimensions! Mind = Blown!
Or well, I guess, if you think the spring floor tumbling pass is long at 56ft, then you’re grateful. Different strokes, right?!
But, if you’re rueing today’s 4 inch beam width… Not so fast! That super long, mighty wide beam was a round pine tree. Yeah, round. Hmmm…
The first balance beam competition was the at 1934 Worlds and THAT beam was a miserly 3.15 inches wide! Yikes! How hard was it to land a split leap on one of those things?! Amirite?
Today, the length of the beam is 16.5ft. long. It gradually got shorter and shorter as it was used in physical education and it morphed into a women’s only event. The gymnastics beam of 2018 stands 49 inches off the ground at the same height as you will find the women’s vaulting table!
By the way, all of the measurements we’re discussing here are FIG spec measurements. That’s the world governing body for gymnastics the International Federation of Gymnastics or, if you’re French, Federation Internationale Gymnastique, FIG. Since most of our readership is US based we’re going to go ahead and speak American or imperial measurements in inches rather than the metric system in centimeters or millimeters, so that people can visual what we mean when we say the beam is 4 inches wide rather than 10.16 centimeters.
For the truly nerdy and/or the rest of the world… Google’s got you with a conversion calculator: https://www.google.com/search?q=cm+to+inches&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1
The Unevens, also known as the asymetrical bars in some parts of Europe, first debuted in 1934 at a World Championship meet in Hungary. They were originally an oval rail, like the men’s parallel bar rail. In fact, they were the men’s parallel bars with one bar raised higher than the other to make them uneven or asymetrical.
Today’s uneven’s not only have moved to the round rail that still retains the roughly 1.5 inch diameter of the men’s parallel bar rail, but they’ve moved apart in width, as well!
GMR’s founder, Mike Raines, is fascinated with the evolution of gymnastics equipment and the more we delve deeper into the subject, the more we see that equipment evolves in tandem with the skills of the athlete and vice versa!
So, as female gymnasts came tearing out of their shells where they were kept as pretty posing ornaments and into their own as athletes, so they demanded their equipment evolve to keep up with their growing strength and skill. In this regard, women’s unevens spread wider apart to accommodate their badder and bolder giants swing.
Today’s uneven bars width is measured from the distance from the front low bar to the back high bar — not the distance between the uprights or the spreader bar that hold them in place, as many people assume. The high bar is 98 inches tall and the low bar is 67 inches from the ground.
The length of the women’s uneven bar is the same length as the men’s high bar: 94.5 inches long. Most coaches think it is 96 inches or 8 feet long, but that is not the case.
Jumping over to vault… Vault’s early origins are said to have come from jumping over bulls. Rather than actual live bulls, though, most gymnasts used their pommel horse equipment with the handles removed.
Back in the days when Mike rode a horse and carriage 20 miles in the snow to get to the gym (ha ha) women vaulted sideways, with the the horse perpendicular to them, and men vaulted long ways with the horse positioned on the same line as the gymnast. Mike says they even called it “Longhorse”.
After both male and female gymnasts were seriously injured or died from accidents associated with the configuration of the vaulting horse as it was, FIG made the switch, in the 2000 Olympics, to its current vault table form, nicknamed “the tongue”. The tongue, as it were, because it really does kind of look like the Rolling Stones iconic tongue logo, measures 37 inches wide and 47 long. Heights vary by gender with women’s being 49 inches: the same height you will find balance beams, coincidentally! Men’s gymnastics vault table height is 53 inches.
Of course, for age group gymnastics in your gym, the height can and should be lowered.
Today, gymnasts use a spring board to get that extra oomph that propels them up and over into whatever magic they put into their vault.
Back in the day, however, gymnasts got their bounce from a Reuther board, so named for the gentleman from Spieth Germany who invented it. Colloquially, it was also called a beat board because of that added punch the gymnast gave to get as much height and propulsion out of it.
You’ll never guess what it was made of! This was pre-coil spring days, so it was quite simple. It was a curved piece of plywood that acted as a spring. It was first used in 1956 in the Melbourne Olympics. As kids, Mike says it morphed into being known as a Rooter or Beep board.
In fact, much of gymnastics lingo has changed throughout the sport or moreover, shortened throughout the sport.
Floor exercise becomes floor ex or floor, once free exercise or free ex. Pommel horse slims down to pommels. Still rings now goes by rings. Parallel bars went from P-bars to P’s.
Men’s P’s, or gymnastics parallel bars, were originally used by both men and women in competition, though, still both in radically different ways. Then, they raised one of the bars for women, as we mention above.
For men, the equipment has remained pretty much the same. The length of the rails is approximately 11 feet long. In age group gymnastics, the width between the rails is adjusted according to the strength of the gymnast using them from approximately 16.5 inches to 20. 5 inches wide. The wider apart they are, the more upper body strength is required on the part of the gymnast.
Speaking of upper body strength, well, pretty much any of the men’s events require an enormous amount of it, but nothing is quite the killer that is the Still Rings or Rings.
The men’s rings event first debuted in the Olympics in 1924. Oddly, the first rings were, uh, triangles, so not very ring like.
Todays, rings are, in fact, round and ring-ish. They are made with 1.1 inch diameter laminated wood, which turns out, is the same diameter as the men’s high bar! They are hung up to 110.25 inches from the ground. The exact height as the men’s high bar!
The men’s gymnastics rings are suspended roughly 19.75 inches apart. If you’re doing age group gymnastics at your gymnastics gym or club, you can bring them in closer to 12 or 15 inches to accommodate kids who haven’t built up the upper body strength to support themselves using a greater width.
When Mike was coaching boys age group gymnastics he kept three sets of rings with different widths and heights for boys at different strength and ability levels.
As we often get calls about the heights of gymnastics ring frames and how much clearance to leave between the top of the frame and the ceiling, I-beam or joist, a ring frame stands 228 inches or 19 feet tall. Beyond that, we recommend you leave a minimum 6 inch clearance for safety’s sake.
The men’s high bar, or more formally, the men’s horizontal bar, harkens way, way back to Greek, Roman and the Medieval Ages. It was introduced into gymnastics by the men credited as the sport’s founding fathers, Johann Christoph Friedrich GutsMuths and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. The rail shares a diameter with the men’s still rings at 1.1 inches and a height up from the ground them, as well.
So, did you know all that?