1903 WAG World Championships

1903: Women’s Gymnastics at the First World Championships

Female gymnasts did not compete in the International Tournament or in the Belgian Federal Festival. But they did perform, and according to the newspaper reports, they were crowd favorites. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at those newspaper reports, as well as some of the challenges facing women’s gymnastics in fin-de-siècle western European society.

Note: I’m going to refer to it as “women’s gymnastics” in this post, but we won’t be discussing the performances of adult women. Rather, the gymnasts were typically young girls.

1948 Olympics WAG

1948: The Women’s Gymnastics Competition at the London Olympics

The London Olympics were only the third official Olympic competition for women. (Previously, women had competed at the 1928 and 1936 Olympics. There had been exhibitions at previous Olympics, and they had competed at the 1934 and 1938 World Championships.)

Needless to say, women’s gymnastics was still in a state of flux. So, let’s dive in and see what happened at this competition with rhythmic ensemble routines and flying rings.

Note: You can find out more about the rules and apparatus norms here.

Gold medal and photographs of former Czech gymnast Vera Ruzickova, Olympic winner in London 1948, pictured during the press conference prior to Olympic games in London, Prague, Czech Republic, on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. Photo/Stanislav Peska (CTK via AP Images)
1948 Olympics WAG

1948: The Women’s Rules and Apparatus Norms for the London Olympics

1948 was a different time in women’s gymnastics. 15 points as the maximum score for optional routines. Flying rings. Ensemble exercises. No all-around competition.

Let’s take a look at the rules.

Cissie Davies of Great Britain on the balancing bar, during the Summer Olympic Games gymnastics event (transferred from the Wembley Stadium) at the Empress Hall, Earl’s Court in London, United Kingdom on August 12, 1948. Eleven countries have entered the women’s team competition. The competition is carried out on similar lines to the men’s and comprises voluntary and compulsory exercises on swinging ring and beam, and springboard vaults over the pommel-horse. (AP Photo)
1968 Olympics WAG

1968: The Women’s Event Finals in Mexico City

History is a matter of perspective, and so are gymnastics results. As we’ll see, the women’s event finals were highly contested at the 1968 Olympic Games.

Let’s take a look at what happened…

1968 Olympics WAG

1968: The Women’s Optionals Competition in Mexico City

On Wednesday, October 23, 1968, the women competed in the optionals portion of the competition. As far as gold medals were concerned, there weren’t any surprises. The Soviet team was leading after the compulsories, and they ended up with gold. Čáslavská was leading the all-around after compulsories, and she won gold.

But the competition had its fair share of drama, especially on the podium. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Czech Vera Caslavska performs her routine on the beam at the Olympic Games in Mexico, on October 23 1968. The Czech gymnast won the all around individual title in gymnastics competition in Mexico City. Vera Caslavska, one of the most titled gymnast switched from ice skating to gymnastics as a 15 year-old, and went on to win 22 Olympic, World and European titles. She won three Olympic gold medals in 1964, and four in 1968. (Photo by – / EPU / AFP) (Photo by -/EPU/AFP via Getty Images)
1968 Code of Points Judging Controversy Olympics WAG

1968: Věra Čáslavská’s Beam Score and the Problems with Judging

Čáslavská’s beam routine during the optionals portion of the (1B) competition caused quite the stir.

Here are the basics:

  • Čáslavská received a 9.65 for her beam routine.
  • The crowd protested for over 10 minutes.
  • Her beam score was raised to a 9.80 after Berthe Villancher, the president of the Women’s Technical Committee, interceded.

There was a lot on the line. These scores counted towards:

  • The team standings
  • The all-around standings, which was the sum of a gymnast’s compulsory and optionals scores
  • Qualifying for event finals
  • A gymnast’s event finals score, which was the average of her compulsory and optionals scores + her event finals score

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty and discuss how this one routine illustrated so much of the judging dysfunction that existed in the 1960s.

Čáslavská, 1968 Olympics
1968 Olympics WAG

1968: The Women’s Compulsories Competition in Mexico City

On Monday, October 21, 1968, the women’s compulsories opened the gymnastics competition at the Olympics in Mexico City.

And, as we’ll see, the crowd was very invested in the competition.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 21: Natalia Kuchinskaya of the Soviet Union competes in the balance beam of the Artistic Gymnastics Women’s Team compulsory during the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games at the National Auditorium on October 21, 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
1968 Age USSR WAG

1968: Why Is the Soviet Union’s National Team So Young?

Why is our national team suddenly so young? It seems to be a recurring question in the Soviet press in the late 1960s, and there were several explanations.

In an article from 1967, one writer suggested that it’s because the Soviet Union was trying to keep pace with the likes of Věra Čáslavská, who made her international debut at the age of 16 at the 1958 World Championships in Moscow.

The articles from 1968 told a different story.

In the first article below, the explanation will sound more familiar to today’s gym nerds. It has to do with the presumed innocence and naïveté of female gymnasts before they reach adulthood.

In the second article, Larisa Latynina offers a slightly different rendition of the rise of the teenage gymnast.

And finally, we’ll take a look at an Estonian article about Larisa Petrik and what she reportedly did with her pigtails.

1968 MAG Perfect 10 USSR WAG

1968: A Flurry of 10.0s in the Soviet Union

At the 1967 European Championships, Czechoslovak gymnast Věra Čáslavská scored two 10.0s. One year later, during the lead-up to the Mexico City Olympics, the Soviet gymnasts scored four 10.0s at their domestic competitions.

Given the flurry of 10.0s just before the 1968 Olympics, it’s somewhat surprising that there weren’t any 10.0s in Mexico City.

Let’s take a look at what happened at the USSR Nationals and the USSR Cup.

1968 East Germany MAG Perfect 10 WAG

1968: Zuchold’s and Janz’s 10.0s at the East German Championships

After Čáslavská scored two 10.0s at the 1967 European Championships, a flurry of 10.0s appeared in national competitions during the lead-up to the Mexico City Olympics. Two of the recipients were Erika Zuchold and Karin Janz.

At the East German Championships in July of 1968, Zuchold scored 10.0s on both optional floor and vault, and Janz scored a 10.0 on her optional vault.

What follows is a translation of an article from Neues Deutschland.

Zentralbild Koch 8.7.1968 Halle: DDR-Meisterschaften im Frauenturnen. Bei den Finalwettbewerben an den einzelnen Geräten, mit denen am 7.7.1968 in Halle-Neustadt die deutschen Frauen-Turnmeisterschaften der DDR zu Ende gingen, holte sich die Achtkampfmeisterin Erika Zuchold (SC Leipzig) auch die Titel am Schwebebalken und im Bodenturnen (Foto). Während der Meisterschaftstage erreichte die Leipzigerin insgesamt sechsmal die Höchstnote “10”.