History of rhythmic gymnastics

Rhythmic gymnastics emerged around 1900 as the next step in a movement begun by Pehr Ling in 1814. He developed the Swedish system of free exercise, which promoted “aesthetic gymnastics,” in which participants expressed their feelings and emotions through bodily movement. Catherine E. Beecher, who founded the Western Female Institute in Ohio, in 1837, created a program called “grace without dancing,” in which young women exercised to music. In the 1880s, Viennese-born Emile Jaques-Dalcroze of Switzerland created “eurhythmics,” physical training for musicians and dancers. Around the same time, George Demeny of France created exercises to music to promote grace of movement, muscular flexibility and good posture. Around 1900, these elements of movement to music were combined into the Swedish school of rhythmic gymnastics. Estonia’s Ernest Idla is credited with establishing a degree of difficulty for each movement, adding a competitive aspect to the sport. After World War II, scoring methods based partly on Idla’s ideas were developed in Europe, and the sport began to rise in popularity, particularly in the Soviet Union. In 1946, Khudozhestvennaya Gimnasticka, or “rhythmic sport gymnastics,” was introduced in the Soviet Union as a competitive sport. The first international competition was held in 1961 between the Soviet Union, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. Rhythmic gymnastics received recognition as a sport from the International Gymnastics Federation in 1962. The first world championships were held a year later, in Budapest, Hungary. The U.S. began competing at the event in 1973. Rhythmic gymnastics made its debut as an individual event at the Olympics in 1984. The group competition was added to the Olympic program in 1996 in Atlanta.

European dominance

Of the 39 Olympic medals awarded thus far in rhythmic gymnastics, only two have gone to non-European athletes – Canada’s Lori Fung, who won individual gold in 1984, when most Eastern European nations boycotted; and the Chinese team, who took silver in Beijing. In particular, athletes of Eastern Europe (including the Soviet Union/Unified Team and the former Soviet republics) have dominated the sport, capturing 31 of the 39 Olympic medals awarded to date. The Soviet Union/Unified Team and athletes from former Soviet republics have won 19 of 21 individual medals awarded in Olympics they have entered. At the 2012 London Games, Russia enjoyed tremendous success. Yevgenia Kanayeva became the first woman to successfully defend her individual Olympic title in rhythmic gymnastics, while Russia won its fourth consecutive gold medal in the group event.