Unlike basketball, tennis or figure skating, in which the men’s and women’s sports are mostly similar, the differences between men’s and women’s gymnastics are vast. In gymnastics, it’s not just a matter of differences in court size or scoring. Men and women perform entirely different skills on different pieces of equipment.
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Men have six events, while women have four. Both use the vault and floor exercise. Men also practice on the horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse and still rings. The balance beam and uneven bars round out the women’s events. USA Gymnastics -- the national governing body of the sport -- notes that many consider the pommel horse the hardest men’s event because it takes “an enormous” amount of practice to master basic skills. Because the balance beam is only 4 inches wide and the cause of many falls, the balance beam is often considered the hardest event in women’s gymnastics.
USA Gymnastics divides men’s and women’s gymnastics into two different Junior Olympic Programs, beginning from the time a gymnast enters the sport. Boys begin their first three levels in the Basic Skills Achievement Program, then advance to the Age Group Competition. The very best join the National Olympic Team Program. In the women’s program, the first four levels are the beginning or Developmental Levels. Then gymnasts compete in the Compulsory Levels 5 and 6 before advancing to the Option Levels up to Level 10. After Level 10, men and women try out for elite status -- the highest possible rank.
While both disciplines require strength, men’s routines focus more on displaying this strength through holds on the still rings and traveling skills on the pommel horse, for example. Women’s routines focus more on artistry and grace. The female gymnast tells a story with her body as she performs a routine to music on the floor. Men do not use music for the floor exercise. Women incorporate dance skills in their floor and balance beam routines and must connect their skills on the floor, beam and uneven bars. Only on the floor and horizontal bar do men focus on connecting their skills in succession.
Before 2006, all gymnastics was scored on the 10.0 system. Since 2006, only the Women’s Junior Olympic and collegiate programs use this system. At the elite level, men and women follow a complex scoring system under the International Gymnastics Federation that breaks scores down by their difficulty and technical content and their execution. On the balance beam and floor exercise, the women’s execution score includes a score for artistry. The Men’s Junior Olympic and collegiate programs use a modified version of the International Gymnastics Federation system.