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Switzerland WAG

1950: The Impetus for Competitive Women’s Gymnastics in Switzerland

In recent posts, we’ve talked a lot about the Swiss men, but we haven’t said much about the Swiss women. Even though Switzerland hosted the 1950 World Championships, the federation did not send any women. As the writer in Gazette de Lausanne noted:

The reason is that the leaders of our federation do not want to put our ladies in competition, considering that the latter is not reserved for representatives of the weaker sex. Are they wrong, are they right?

Gazette de Lausanne, July 18, 1950

La cause en est que les dirigeants de notre fédération ne veulent pas’ mettre nos dames en compétition, estimant que cette dernière n’est pas réservée aux représentantes du sexe faible. Ont-ils tort, ont-ils raison?

Intrigued, I looked into when and how the Swiss women were finally allowed to compete in gymnastics internationally. It turns out that the story is more complicated than it’s normally presented.

For starters, women’s artistic gymnasts from Switzerland had competed internationally before their supposed debut at the World Championships in 1966.

In fact, they had competed at an Olympics—just not the Olympics that you’re probably thinking of.

Mitglied der Kunstturn-Nationalmannschaft Käthi Fritschi 1971 (Photo by Gody Bürkler/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
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1950 WAG World Championships

1950: Replacing the Women’s Vault Judges at the World Championships

In 1950, women competed at their third World Championships, and guess what happened.

The vault judges botched the scoring so badly that they had to be replaced.

Who said that old gymnastics meets were boring?

Oh, and unlike the 1934 and 1938 World Championships, the competitors did not compete in track and field events in 1950. (The men did.)

Helena Rakoczy, 1950
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1950 WAG World Championships

1950: The Women’s Rules for the World Championships

While the men had a Code of Points in place for the 1950 World Championships, the women did not. But they did have a book of General Instructions. What follows are the highlights.

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1950 MAG WAG World Championships

1950: A Preview of the World Championships in Basel

Competition previews are a tried and true genre of gymnastics sports writing. They give you a snapshot of who are the favorites, how certain countries’ gymnasts are perceived, and what the supposed expectations of the judges are. Plus, they are fun to read after the competition and see how much the author got right and wrong.

Let’s take a look at the preview for the 1950 World Championships in Basel, Switzerland. It was written by Jean A. Latte and was printed in the French Moroccan newspaper La Vigie Marocaine on July 7, 1950.

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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.

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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)
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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)
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1968 Olympics WAG

1968: The Women’s Event Finals in Mexico City

History is a matter of perspective, and, by extension, 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…

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1968 Olympics WAG

1968: The Women’s Optionals Competition in Mexico City

On Wednesday, October 23, 1968, the Olympians in women’s artistic gymnastics 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)
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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