1928 FIG Congress

1928: The Fight over Pole Vault at the 15th FIG Congress + the Complete Minutes

In 1928, the 15th FIG Congress took place on August 6 in Amsterdam. It was the first meeting of the delegates after the death of Nicolas J. Cupérus, the man who led the FIG for 43 years. 

The minutes are fascinating because they show the struggle between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to define the sport of gymnastics.

Is pole vault a gymnastics event or an athletics event?

In the view of the FIG, it was a gymnastics event, especially since it required the use of apparatus. (It was also part of Jahn’s seminal text, Die Deutsche Turnkunst, though that point did not come up in conversations.) But the IOC didn’t share the FIG’s view.

*Cue dramatic music.*

Reminder: Track and field events like pole vault were part of the World Championships (originally called the International Tournament) until 1950. Here’s a full list of events during the major men’s gymnastics competitions from 1896 until 1950.

1928 MAG Olympics WAG

1928: The FIG’s Report on the Olympic Games in Amsterdam

Separate from the organizing committee’s Official Report on the 1928 Olympics, the FIG published its own booklet on the gymnastics competition in Amsterdam. What follows is a translation of the report, as well as every score from every judge at the competition — both men’s and women’s.

As you’ll see by the amount of space dedicated to women’s gymnastics in the report, the FIG remained focused primarily on men’s gymnastics.

Let’s dive in.

Cover of the FIG’s booklet on the 1928 Olympics
1928 MAG Olympics Perfect 10

1928: A Costly Math Error during the Men’s Competition at the Amsterdam Olympics

The men’s competition at the 1928 Olympics was a close battle between Czechoslovakia and Switzerland. It came down to the very last event, vault, on which Czechoslovak gymnast Šupčík fell and on which Swiss gymnast Eugen Mack received a perfect score for his compulsory routine.

Modern gymnastics fans might be surprised to know that one of the countries performed to music. During its ensemble floor routine, Yugoslavia told the history of its nation through music and movement. (Technically, it wasn’t Yugoslavia at the time but rather the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes or SHS for short.)

Of course, there was a fair share of judging drama. It’s gymnastics.

Unfortunately, there were some organizational problems, too. Due to a mathematical error, the wrong person received the bronze medal on rings.

Swiss gymnast Georges Miez (1904-1999) at the 1928 Summer Olympics, held at the Olympisch Stadion (Olympic Stadium) in Amsterdam, Netherlands, August 1928. Miez won gold in the Men’s artistic individual all-around, Men’s artistic team all-around, Men’s horizontal bar, and won silver in the Men’s pommel horse. (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
1928 MAG Olympics

1928: The Rules for Men’s Gymnastics at the Olympic Games

At the Olympic Games prior to 1928, the men competed in track and field events, rope climbing, or even an obstacle course (1920).

The Amsterdam Olympics marked a turning point in men’s gymnastics. For the first time, the athletes competed only on gymnastics apparatus at the Olympic Games. No rope climb. No sprints. No high jump. Just apparatus gymnastics.

However, the Olympic program still hadn’t taken its modern form. In 1928, male gymnasts didn’t perform individual floor routines. They did, however, perform on the floor as an ensemble, and, as we’ll discuss in the next post, the Yugoslav team had a remarkable ensemble routine.

1928 Olympics WAG

1928: Women Compete in Gymnastics at the Olympics for the First Time

Whereas men competed in gymnastics at the very first Olympic Games in 1896, women had to wait until the 1928 Games in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the Official Report provides little commentary on the women’s competition — save for the results, the names of the athletes, and a photo of the French team climbing the double ropes.

But there were newspaper accounts of the events.

In this post, we’ll dive a bit deeper and look at two perspectives: that of the Dutch and that of the French. (The former was written for a general audience, while the latter was written for the gymnastics nerds.)

As we’ll see, there were some glaring issues that needed to be addressed in women’s gymnastics.

1928 Olympics WAG

1928: Rules for the First Women’s Gymnastics Competition at the Olympic Games

In 1928, women finally competed in gymnastics at the Olympic Games. Previously, they had been allowed to perform exhibitions, but they weren’t part of the competitive program.

The rules for the women’s competition at the 1928 Olympic Games were vague at best. After reading this post, you’ll probably have more questions than answers.

So, here are the rules…