In most sports, the differences between men’s and women’s events are often nonexistent or as trivial as a minor scoring, formatting, or rule change. Men’s and women’s gymnastics, however, are two distinctly different sports!
Before discussing the very apparent differences between men’s and women’s gymnastics, it is important to first point out the similarities between the two sports.
- Awe-inspiring acrobatics are still the main focus. Although they may feature different events, both men and women perform acrobatic feats using various bars, beams, and other equipment.
- Both men and women compete in floor and vault routines. These two iconic routines are present in both versions of the sport, although they slightly differ.
- There is no difference in competition format at the Olympics. Both versions of the sport include a team event (with four gymnasts per team), an individual all-around event (single competitors compete on all apparatuses), and individual competitive Gymnastics events (gymnasts compete to be the best on a single apparatus).
- Routines are scored depending on difficulty and execution. Both men’s and women’s gymnastics scoring is based on a difficulty score (D-score) and an execution score (E-score). A gymnast’s final routine score is the addition of these two values together. The judges are picked from the International Gymnastics Federation.
Now let’s go over the differences between men’s and women’s gymnastics. The differences between these two sports can be separated by equipment and events.
Uniforms and Equipment
Both men’s and women’s gymnastics use different apparatuses in their respective events (see “Events”). Other than this, however, the only additional equipment needed in this sport is the attire each gymnast wears. While women wear leotards, men wear sleeveless shirts and shorts/pants, depending on the event.
WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS EVENTS
Women compete in four total events:
Vault routines consist of a run-up, springboard, and vaulting table that gymnasts use to propel themselves into the air before sticking a landing. Gymnasts are scored depending on the complexity and difficult skills used in their in-air acrobatics and the quality of their landing.
Vault is also the only event with preset difficulty scores. Each vault’s score is determined by the scoring system using the Code of Points. For the Vault a competitors highest and lowest scores are removed and the remailing three execution scores are averaged to give the competitors final execution score.
2) Uneven Bars:
This event uses two asymmetric bars that gymnasts jump between while performing various spins and flips without touching the ground. One bar is 8.2 feet off the ground, while the other is 5.6 feet high.
An uneven bar routine often has no time limit, although gymnasts are expected to perform at least 15 to 20 tricks that generally take about 45 seconds to complete. Judges score these routines depending on the execution of the various stunts and will deduct points if a gymnast’s legs hit the low bar or floor, has pauses or unnecessary swings that don’t lead to action, and for a poor dismount.
3) Balance Beam:
The balance beam is a single, 16-foot-long leather-padded beam suspended nearly five feet off the ground. Gymnasts are expected to perform certain required elements and are judged depending on their execution and overall balance while on the four-inch-wide beam.
These routines last between 70 and 90 seconds and require a gymnast to perform the following:
- A full turn/spin on one foot.
- A combination of two dance elements, with one being a jump or hop in which the legs reach a 180-degree split position in the air.
- A series of two acrobatic elements in connection, with one being a salto (a frontflip/somersault).
- Acrobatic elements done in various directions (front, back, or sideways).
If a gymnast falls off the beam, they lose a set amount of points but are allowed 10 seconds to get back on the beam and continue their routine.
Floor sees gymnasts complete 90-second choreographed routines on a large 39×39 foot spring floor. For women, this event is performed alongside music and combines typical acrobatic gymnastic stunts with dance and personality elements.
A gymnast’s routine is scored according to its difficulty, demonstration of required elements, artistry, and overall performance. The required elements for women’s floor routines include:
- Two connected dance elements, with one being a 180-degree split.
- A double salto (two flips in succession).
- Forward, backward, and sideways saltos.
- A salto with at least one full twist.
The gymnast’s final score is formulated from deducting points from the competitor’s starting score.
MEN’S GYMNASTICS EVENTS
Men compete in six total events:
Same event as the women perform, although the vaulting table is four inches higher.
Men’s floor routines may only last a maximum of 70 seconds. These routines are judged similarly to how women’s floor is scored, although men are encouraged to perform more strength-based acrobatics as opposed to artistic ones. As such, men’s floor routines are not performed with music.
Men’s floor routines must include one of each of the following elements:
- Non-acrobatic elements.
- Forward acrobatic elements.
- Backward acrobatic and Arabian elements (flips that begin with a twist).
3) Pommel Horse:
Pommel horses are pieces of equipment composed of a metal frame covered in foam and leather with two handles on top. This apparatus vaguely resembles a horse’s saddled back and features a rounded, somewhat cylindrical shape that is widest at the top and thinnest at the bottom. This top surface measures roughly 5 feet in length and 14 inches in width and sits almost four feet off the ground.
During pommel horse routines, gymnasts use their arms to balance and maneuver their entire body while swinging their legs around the apparatus and in the air. Throughout the athlete’s routine, they must complete the following:
- Single-leg swings and scissors (switching which leg is on which side of the apparatus).
- Circles and flairs (swinging the legs around the apparatus in a circular motion).
- Side and cross-support travel (moving from one end of the apparatus to the other).
4) Still Rings:
One of the most iconic gymnastics events, the still rings make use of two circular handles suspended in the air. Gymnasts are expected to perform a variety of swings and hold elements, all of which require extreme amounts of upper-body strength.
A ring routine should include the following required elements:
- Swing elements (ideally into handstands)
- Strength and hold elements
- Swings into strength/hold elements
Gymnasts are judged most heavily on execution and face deductions when bending their arms on various holds and transitions, grabbing the cables holding the rings for support, or grimacing and failing to maintain a neutral facial expression.
5) Parallel Bars:
Two parallel 11-foot-long bars are placed between 17 and 20 inches apart. Similar to the pommel horse, a gymnast uses his arms to twist and maneuver his body around and on top of the bars.
Gymnasts are expected to perform the following elements in their routines:
- Elements in or through support.
- Elements starting in the upper arm position (upper arms rest on the bars).
- Long swings in hang and underswings.
6) High Bar/Horizontal Bar:
Gymnasts perform spectacular stunts while constantly changing grips on a single bar suspended in the air. Due to the sheer amount of momentum a gymnast can gain on this bar, dismounts often feature incredible air time and sequences of spins and twists. A Gymnast’s score is based on how well he executes these elements.
Horizontal bar routines must contain the following elements:
- Long hang swings with and without turns.
- Flight elements.
- In bar and Adler elements (essentially somersaulting while the hands are in contact with the bar).
Both men’s and women’s gymnastics are far from similar competitions due to the unique apparatuses both sports use. This is entirely intentional, as women’s events are generally judged more on artistry and grace, while men’s events are mainly judged on feats of upper-body strength.
Despite these glaring differences, these two sports are still gymnastics; improbable feats of strength, showcases of incredible mobility, and daring acrobatic stunts are still the overarching themes of men’s and women’s events.