Few sports encapsulate and exemplify the commitment required – both physical and mental – to reach Olympic standard like Gymnastics does.
And, the fact that such dedication, sacrifice, toil, stress and strain is historically embodied in some of the Summer Games’ youngest combatants is a marvel in itself.
Like Swimming, Gymnastics has featured at every Summer Games since the inception of the modern Olympic movement at the Athens 1896 Games. However, the female competition was not included on the Olympic program until the 1928 Amsterdam Games.
Today, Olympic gymnasts compete across three distinct disciplines: artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline. Rhythmic gymnastics was first contested and added to the official calendar of events at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Trampolining wasn’t admitted as an Olympic event until the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
So which nations have enjoyed the most latex-covered glory throughout the modern Games? Which individuals have leapt, tumbled, summersaulted and catapulted their way to the winners’ dais? And in which events?
Dashboard: A critique of great gymnasts, gymnastic nations and gymnastic achievements at the Summer Games (1896 – 2008)
Note: As usual, the below dashboard is fully interactive. Again, we’ve simply chosen to explore a small sample of interesting data points. So start clicking, drilling and filtering to uncover the history and most memorable moments of Olympic gymnastics, to ascertain which countries, events and individuals have arched, balanced and pirouetted their way to the podium.
Gymnastics: Medalists vs medal count by country at the Summer Games (1896 – 2008)
Norway and the USA have produced the equal highest number of medal winning gymnasts at the Summer Games, generating 100 medalists apiece. Denmark sits in a close third position, with 98 of its gymnasts returning home with some bling.
What’s that you say? You don’t recall Norway and Denmark standing atop the gymnastics medal tables at previous Summer Games? Well, neither did we. And, like you, we assumed that something was wrong. Was it the data? Had we – somewhere, somehow – made a miscalculation?
Our medal count by country informed us that America’s 100 medalists had claimed 93 medals, Norway’s 100 had yielded just five medals, and Denmark’s 98 gymnastic medalists – like Norway – had only earned five medals between them.
After triple checking our data analysis and data set, we resorted to dusting off the history books. Apparently data doesn’t lie – we were right on both counts. However, we also learnt that viewing the number of medalists by country as a standalone statistic is also very misleading. Apparently, in the early years of Olympic competition – around the turn of the century – Norway entered several 20-plus strong squads in the gymnastic team events at multiple Olympic meets. Thus, resulting in a medalist to medal count ratio of 20 to one!
Gymnastics: Country by event medal count at the Summer Games (1896 – 2008)
When gauging the gymnastic pedigree of each nation by assessing the success of each country across individual events, it becomes immediately clear that the Soviet Union was enormously dominant – across almost all categories. For more on the rise and fall of the Soviet Union at the Summer Olympics, check out our formative blog post, Data visualization analyzes the East vs West rivalry at the Olympics.
Other standouts include Japan in the All-Around Individual Men’s (13 medals), Horizontal Bar (14 medals – both genders), and the Parallel Bars (14 medals – both genders).
Romania also has a history of success in the Olympic gymnastics arena, with 12 medals in the Floor Exercises (Women), 11 in the women’s team event, and 10 medals in the All-Around Individual Women’s.
Top individual medal winners in Olympic gymnastic competition (1896 – 2008 Summer Games)
The top two individual medal winners in gymnastic competition at the modern Summer Games both represented the Soviet Union. For more on Larisa Latynina and Nikolai Andrianov and their astonishing Olympic feats, check out another of our Olympic blog posts, Analyzing the greatest Olympians with data visualization.
Gymnastics: Medal count by country over time at the Summer Games (1896 – 2008)
So, we know that the Soviet Union dominated gymnastic competition during its nine Olympic appearances. But the USSR wasn’t formed at the beginning of the modern Olympics, and was disbanded in 1991. So which teams boasted the most success prior to, and after, the USSR? We’ll leave this one for you to figure out 😉 You can send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org
London 2012: A jolting journey for the world’s best gymnasts
Both North Greenwich and Wembley Arenas have already provided many tumultuous and turbulent gymnastics moments at London 2012. The US took control of the women’s team finals by securing the top three scores on the Vault – the highest-scored rotation due to the apparatuses’ elevated difficulty. The US women’s team ultimately took out the Gold medal, as highly fancied opponents Russia faltered on the Balance Beam and Floor.
The Ukrainian men’s team lost their Bronze medal after an appeal from Japan catapulted the Asian nation to Silver, pushing Ukraine out of the top three and dashing their short-lived celebrations. While Great Britain’s men, after not having qualified for the team event in 88 years, snagged Bronze.
The United States’ Danell Leyva put in two amazing come-from-behind performances on the Parallel and High Bars to clinch the men’s Individual All-Around Bronze medal. His stoic efforts tempered America’s shock underperformance in the men’s team event, as the hot favorite finished a disappointing fifth.
Astonishingly, China took out the men’s team competition, and then failed to qualify a single man for the Individual All-Around competition.
And, if that wasn’t enough, defending world champ, Jordyn Wieber, looks set to miss the women’s All-Around finals.
Where to next?
Keep your flexible fingers poised over your mouse, and prepare for a perfect landing (on the Yellowfin website), as we continue our series of Olympic data blogs; appearing daily until London’s Closing Ceremony (12 August).