Saturday, August 11, 2012

Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics Redemption

For sheer beauty, guts, intelligence and brilliance Rhythmic Gymnastics is hard to beat but over the past 50 years this women's sport hase been under a cloud.

The horrors of the Nazi regimes which favoured mass performances by women sporting clubs, hoops and balls, appear abhorrent today  as do the mass displays of the North Koreans .

Next the was the domination of the old Soviet Union Club. Again this sport was favoured by this regime and it was promoted throughout the Soviet Empire. Rhythmics is a subjective sport as it relies on judges and judges can be got at! The Soviet block could  guarantee placings across the board as their judges dominated the judging panels. The medals were doled out ensuring Soviet domination.

How do I know this? For a short period of four years I was a fully qualified Rhythmic judge. I was just below international level as it takes 7 years to attain this and I became disillusioned with this sport  as I saw how the marks could be easily manipulated. It was all done cleverly and quietly but I know this went on.

I became a judge because I had the honor and pleasure to be the balletic coach for New Zealand Commonwealth Games Rope Gold medalist, Angela Walker in  1990. I never imagined that I should ever be part of a sporting event let alone train a medalist.

The main reason I left Rhythmics was the way the gymnasts were encouraged and in the case of the Eastern bock teams forced to become anorexic.  In those days the gymnast had to be ultra thin to win plus being part of the eastern block. This was also happening in ballet at the same time. Up until this time I had never heard of anorexia. In my day dancers were about dress size 12 and being ultra thin was not fashionable. e.g. Marylyn Munroe and Margot Fonteyn.
Seeing and experiencing the horror what happens to girls who become anorexic solely for sport and ballet I felt I could no longer be part of the scene. After having 7 very competent young ballet dancers failed by a major examining body because of being as the examiner stated as being too fat  I and another ballet teacher left the art. I felt I could no longer teach or be part of organizations that covertly promoted anorexia.

It has taken about 20 years for Rhythmics to address these problems. This was helped by the fall of the Soviet Union as the judging system could at last be reformed. Now all gymnasts have to submit routines which can be assessed for difficulty and TV re-runs can ensure fair play.

The code of the sport is renewed after every Olympics. In the past the Eastern Block could influence this and ensure that the code favoured their  gymnasts. Now this is no longer possible and codes are chosen to ensure that a gymnast's career is not over at the age of 18 as in the past.  The dress code was also modified  as the stark leotards were cruel to any woman over the age of 18. Decoration and style. tunics and tights were allowed.

These changes have taken a couple of decades to introduce but in the London 2012 Olympics the results can be seen. The range of countries competing who are now in for a chance of a medal has increased. The judging is no longer manipulated by the Eastern Block although the Eastern Block is still dominant as today they put in the work that is required to win.

After a decade of just sheer sporting gymnastic elements the artistry has been allowed to return and the sport has regained its beauty.

The groups have been outstanding this Olympics. Especially the Italians whose choreography is brilliant. They could spar with the Russians on equal level would never have been possible in the past.

Would I allow a child of mine to compete on an International level in this  sport?  No, I don't think so. Subjective sports are still just that - subjective. Much better to be in a sport where the first past the post wins and there is no argument.

Spanish GroupTelegraph


  1. London 2012 rhythmic gymnastics is the 16th Doodle for the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

  2. an interesting sidenote: Rhythmic Gymnastics is officially the only women-only sport in the Olympic Games. It’s clearly not the most pressing or hot-debated topic, but there definitely are two distinct sides to this. On the offhand chance that this interests you as much as it interests me, here’s a pretty cool page that takes a look at the subject:

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      Every Olympic Season there is a review of the sports on offer as in order to accommodate new sports like tennis and golf one featured sport has to get the push. In 1990 I was working as a sports journalist and the sport on the chopping block was Rhythmic Gymnastics. Somehow it was retained and soft ball was eliminated. This time it is sail boarding to make way for golf.

      I don't see why the Olympics doesn't feature Male Rhythmic Gymnastics which does exist i and is popular in Asia.

      Personally I think all boxing should be removed. It is a dangerous and agressive sport. The head injuries are horrendous and the damage to the brain is irreversible. Mohammad Ali's Parkinsons disease is solely the result of boxing. I think losing sail boarding which is fun and beautiful to watch is a shame.

      I did find your link interesting and will pass it on.

  3. Rhythmic gymnastics is an Olympic sport that combines the beauty of ballet, dance and gymnastics in choreographed routines with apparatuses such as ribbon, ball, rope, clubs and hoop. The sport made an immediate impact after it was introduced to Miami Gymnastics by IK School of Gymnastics.