Ancient Greek origins of Olympic gymnastics in National Geographic | sport, greece

NEW YORK – With the Olympic Games scheduled to begin in Tokyo on July 23, National Geographic (NG) looked at “How Gymnastics Became a Deeply Beloved Olympic Sport” on July 15, looking back at the ancient Greek origins of the Olympic Games. sport and its development for Today.

Starting with “naked men exercising in outdoor plazas,” to “bodyguards loyal to Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration” and “tiny teenagers leaping from the ground in dizzying streak. of jumps and leaps, ”NG traced the history of the sport, noting that“ during its evolution from ancient Greek tradition to modern Olympic sport, gymnastics has always been closely associated with ideas of national pride and identity “.

“The sport has its origins in ancient Greece, where young men underwent intense physical and mental training for war,” NG reported, adding that “the word comes from the Greek word gymnos, or” nu, “as appropriate, since the young people trained naked, performing floor exercises, lifting weights and running races.

“For the Greeks, exercise and learning went hand in hand,” NG reported, noting that “according to sports historian R. Scott Kretchmar, the gymnasiums where young Greeks trained served as’ centers of studies and discoveries ”- community centers where young people were educated in the physical and intellectual arts.

“The 4th century BC Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that ‘the education of the body must precede that of the mind,'” NG reported, adding that gymnastics as we know it today, however, “comes from another hotbed of intellectualism and intense debate. : Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries.

“There, as in ancient Greece, physical fitness was seen as an integral part of citizenship and patriotism,” NG reported, noting that “the popular gymnastics societies of the time combined all three.”

“Former Prussian soldier Friedrich Ludwig Jahn – who would later become the ‘father of gymnastics’ – embraced the concepts of national pride and education from the Enlightenment,” NG reported, adding that “afterwards France’s invasion of Prussia, Jahn saw the Germans “defeat as a national humiliation” and “to uplift his compatriots and unite his youth he turned to physical fitness.”

Jahn “created a gymnastics system called Turnen and invented new equipment for his students, including parallel and high bars, balance beam and horse,” NG reported, noting that “in the early years 1800, Jahn’s followers, known as the Turners, stuck to movements similar to modern gymnastics in cities across Germany, “and” tested their skills on balance beams and horses. pommels, climbing ladders, hanging from rings, and doing long jump and other activities with calisthenic mace exhibits.

“At Turner Festivals they exchanged ideas, participated in gymnastics competitions and discussed politics,” NG reported, adding that “over the years they have contributed their ideas on philosophy, education and politics. fitness in the United States, where their gym clubs have become crucial. Community centers. “

“The Turners also became an American political force” because “many had left their home countries because they opposed German monarchies and thirsted for freedom,” NG reported, noting that “as a result, some Turners became staunch abolitionists and supporters of Abraham Lincoln.The president was protected by two companies of Turners when he was first inaugurated, and Turners even formed their own regiments in the Union Army.

“Meanwhile, another European sect that worshiped fitness emerged in Prague in the mid-19th century,” NG reported, adding that “like the Turners, the Sokol movement was made up of nationalists who believed that the coordinated gymnastics of mass could bring the Czech people together, ”and“ Sokols became the most popular organizations in Czechoslovakia, with exercises that included parallel and horizontal bars and floor routines. ”

“With visibility enhanced by the Turner and Sokol, gymnastics gained popularity,” NG reported, noting that “by 1881 international interest in the sport had grown sufficiently that the International Gymnastics Federation be formed “.

“During the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, gymnastics featured high on the list of essential activities of founder Pierre de Coubertin,” NG reported, noting that “71 male competitors took part in eight gymnastics events, including rope climbing ”, and“ no surprises. , Germany swept away the medals, winning five gold, three silver and two bronze. Greece followed with six medals, behind Switzerland’s three.

“In the years that followed, gymnastics evolved into a defined sport with standardized scores and events,” NG reported, adding that “it split into two divisions: artistic gymnastics, which involves vault, uneven bars, beam, pommel horse, motionless rings. , parallel bars, horizontal bars and ground; and rhythmic gymnastics, which involves apparatus such as hoops, balls and ribbons ”, and“ in 1928, women competed for the first time in Olympic gymnastics ”.

“By the mid-20th century, however, Olympic gymnastics was in decline, and officials suggested downsizing the sport and even cutting team competition,” NG reported, noting that “as the Cold War intensified, the USSR saw an opportunity in a sports fallow. As there were no strong Western competitors, the Soviets thought they could dominate and began to invest in gymnastics.

Romania’s Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect ten in women’s gymnastics in 1976, bringing more attention to the sport. “At its peak, the Eastern Bloc won 99% of all Olympic gymnastics medals in women’s artistic gymnastics, sparking a new wave of nationalist competition as Western countries began to invest in the sport,” reported NG, adding that “in 1980 the United States and 65 other nations boycotted the Summer Olympics in protest against the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan,” and “the Soviet Union retaliated with his own boycott in 1984, giving the United States an opening for their Olympic gymnastics teams ”.

“That year, the United States won their first Olympic gold medal for their men’s gymnastics team, the first all-around gold for Mary Lou Retton and several other gold medals in gymnastics,” NG reported, noting that and the former Soviet nations continued their rivalry. Russia leads the all-time ranking in gymnastics with 182 medals to date; the United States is trailing with 114.

While “gymnastics has encouraged national unity and celebrated physical perfection,” the cost to athletes is high, NG reported, noting that “the discipline for which the sport is praised lends itself to abusive training methods. , and the sport has been criticized for favoring extremely young participants.

Scandals have also affected the sport, including “rumors of state-sanctioned doping have long plagued the Soviet Union and Russia, and Russian athletes are currently banned from using the name, flag or anthem of their country in all Olympic sports until 2022 due to documented cases of non-compliance with anti-doping rules, ”NG reported, adding that“ in 2016, Larry Nassar, the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, the ‘governing body of American gymnasts, has been charged with sexual assault on a child.

“In the months that followed, a scandal unraveled the gymnastics world behind the scenes, exposing a culture of verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse and subjugation,” NG reported, noting that “more than 150 gymnasts testified in Nassar. sentencing hearing, and he was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in 2017. ”

Although “gymnastics is no longer part of a larger political movement espousing nationalism and social unity,” it remains popular and a source of national pride for many, NG reported.

“Ultimately, that’s the purpose of the Olympics,” writes David Clay Large, senior research fellow at the Center for European Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, in foreign policy, “NG reported, adding that” these So-called celebrations of world unity succeed because they indulge in precisely what they want to transcend: the world’s lowest instinct for tribalism. The ideological animosities of the Cold War era may have ebbed, but not nationalism. “