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Summer Olympics: Events for Artistic Gymnastics

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Few things about the Olympics are more captivating than watching a gymnast execute a difficult routine. Gymnasts compete in a variety of events, each using a different apparatus, to craft a series of twists, somersaults and other movements. The raw athleticism and skill required to make it all look flawless are one reason why gymnastics remains one of the most popular Olympic sports.

The 2012 London Olympics will feature a slate of six individual events for male gymnasts and four individual events for female gymnasts.

Here is a closer look at each one of those events:

Women's Events

Uneven Bars: One of the most difficult apparatuses to master, the parallel bars require a high degree of strength and balance to perform twists, flips and transitions. Going from one bar to the other also requires great coordination. Timing is everything and fluid movement is valued above all else in this event.

Vault: Speed and lower body strength are necessary components for mastering the vault. A gymnast needs to achieve enough power to hit the spring board hard enough and propel their body high enough to perform a series of complex twists, flips and direction changes. This is one of the fastest events as only a few seconds lapse between taking off on the runway and landing on the mat.

Balance Beam: Intense focus and concentration is the name of the game on the balance beam. The smallest misstep on 4.5-inch wide beam can result in a costly fall. It can be a long 90 seconds as a gymnast strives to complete a difficult routine while keeping perfect balance.

Floor Exercise: Rhythm and flexibility come into play on the floor exercise. A gymnast must perform a series choreographed dance moves, tumbles and jumps set to music. It is a chance for gymnasts to show off their artistic side as they execute entertaining twists, jumps and flips to the beat of the music.

Men's Events

Parallel Bars: Few routines are harder to execute than ones involving parallel bars. It requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination, timing and balance to incorporate all of the necessary swing and flight elements. The gymnast completes moves on a single bar or both bars. He must travel across the length of the bars and perform moves that force him to release and re-grasp the bars while keeping balanced using just his hands and arms.

Vault: All of the fundamental elements are the same in this event as with the women's vault. Equal does of speed, power and spatial awareness are important to a good performance. Height, distance of travel, overall acceleration, and sticking the landing all combine to create a good routine on the vault.

Pommel Horse: Extensive strength is required to pull off a successful routine on the pommel horse. Judges look for unique combinations of movements that are executed with minimal upper body movement. The hands are the only body part that touches the apparatus and a typical routine features continuous circular movements broken only by scissors movements. There is no stopping or pausing during the duration of the routine.

Rings: This is probably the most difficult event in men's gymnastics. Performing on the rings requires mixing strength, timing and body control to keep the rings still while executing a routine. The gymnast begins from a dead hanging position and does a complex series of rotations, holds and ring releases all while keeping the rings still and their body properly positioned. Gymnasts without impeccable upper-body strength fail to score high on this event.

High Bar: This is definitely a crowd-pleasing event. It consists of intricate swings, releases and dramatic dismounts. The gymnast must execute a series of swings and turns in a continuous motion and at least one release of the bar before final dismount. Nothing beats the spectacle of the dismount in this event. A typical dismount features multiple somersaults and twists.

Floor Exercise: Only a few differences separate this event from its women's counterpart. No music is played during this routine. It is centered on executing specific elements such as difficult tumbling passes with multiple flips and twists. The entire floor must be used during the routine and it must include acrobatic elements going forward and backward and tumbling passes in all directions.

John Coon has covered gymnastics as a sports reporter for many publications and wire services. He and his girlfriend have also been past season ticket holders for University of Utah gymnastics meets.

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