Rhythmic Gymnastics in Rio

Last month, while I was at the gym during non-primetime television hours, I caught an hour of the rhythmic gymnastic competition from the Olympics in Rio. I was like this …


… totally glued to the screen, jaw dropped.

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We’re all captivated by regular gymnastics — properly called artistic gymnastics — every four years. I feel like I’m blown away by rhythmic gymnastics every eight years, because it doesn’t get the intensive coverage that artistic does. If you haven’t seen rhythmic, it’s like the most gorgeous ballet, with the addition of ribbons, hoops, balls, rope, clubs, and the element of competition.

Rhythmic gymnastics is much more artistic than so-called artistic gymnastics.

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The grace and musicality of rhythmic make it even stranger than it already is to see the little dance moves that women artistic gymnasts like Simone Biles are forced to include in their routines. Artistic gymnastics would be better described as athletic gymnastics or power gymnastics, and there’s no need to squeeze dance into it, especially when dance has a home in rhythmic gymnastics.

Here’s video from a qualifying event for rhythmic gymnastics in Rio.

NBC won’t allow me to embed the video of the actual competition here, but it’s worth checking out this highlights page.

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According to the Olympic website, rhythmic gymnastics — which is a women-only activity, for some reason — started in the 1880s as group gymnastics and got more popular in the 1930s as it became more complex. The first international tournament took place in 1964, and the sport became part of the Olympics in 1984.

Whenever I see rhythmic gymnastics, I’m reminded of a dinner conversation I had with a sports-loving friend. This probably took place during the Summer Olympics of 1992 or 1996. I had caught some of the rhythmic gymnastics and was gushing to him about how extraordinary the competitors were. He argued that rhythmic gymnastics wasn’t a sport and shouldn’t be part of the Olympics. I disagreed, pointing out that it was an incredibly challenging physical skill. He told me that difficulty didn’t matter. It. Was. Not. A. Sport. I felt like he was disrespecting rhythmic gymnastics because involved women and things like ribbons, but he denied any bias. Also, he was the sports expert and these were the days before Poodle. There wasn’t much I could say.

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My, how things have changed! This year, while watching rhythmic gymnastics and plodding away on the elliptical machine, I took my multitasking to the next level by Poodling the definition of “sport” on my phone. Here is Merriam-Webster‘s version:

Here is the Oxford definition:

In other words …

Rhythmic. Gymnastics. Is. A. Sport.

If I ever get my hands on a time machine, I’m going to revisit that conversation. I have a lot of other, more serious items on my time-machine to-do list, but this is definitely in the top 10!