Summer Olympics History: Rhythmic Gymnastics at the Olympic Games

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Rhythmic gymnastics has a much shorter history that its artistic counterpart. Rhythmic gymnastics, which is often contested with equipment such as hoops, ribbons, balls and clubs, first appeared at the Olympic Games in 1984.

Origins of Rhythmic Gymnastics as an International Sport

The history of rhythmic gymnastics dates back to the 1930s. Then, athletes began to incorporate pieces of ballet and stretching into basic choreography routines, and by the 1960s, the first rhythmic gymnastics event was recognized by the International Gymnastics Federation. Within a year of that recognition, the first rhythmic gymnastics world championship was held.

Rhythmic Gymnastics in the Olympic Games

The International Olympic Committee first voted to include women's rhythmic gymnastics during an IOC meeting in Moscow of 1980. Four years later, the sport made its first appearance at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Initially, only one event -- the women's individual all-around -- was contested. Canada's Lori Fung became the first woman ever to win a rhythmic gymnastics event at the Olympic Games, while Doina Staiculescu of Romanian finished second and Regina Weber of West Germany finished third. The United States has yet to earn a medal at the Olympic Games during rhythmic gymnastic competition.

Team Events are Introduced to the Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics Program

By 1996, the IOC had decided to include a women's team event in the rhythmic gymnastics competition. Initially, nine teams could compete in the event, and the team from Spain won the first ever team gold in the rhythmic gymnastics team event. The same year, Bulgaria earned silver and Russia earned bronze.

Since the 1996 Olympic Games, the team event has grown to include participants from twelve countries, and Russia has emerged as a dominating force in the competitions.

Rhythmic Gymnastics at the 2012 Olympic Games

In London, each eligible country will be able to send up to two individual athletes and six team athletes. In order for the athletes to compete, though, each country must qualify at a designated qualifying tournament, as there are only a limited number of spots available for the Olympic competitions.

In total, 96 women are expected to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games. The rhythmic gymnastics tournament is scheduled to begin on Aug. 9, 2012, and conclude on Aug. 12, 2012. The events will be contested in Wembley Arena. In order to claim gold, an athlete much come up with a winning combination of difficulty, grace, execution and artistry.

Sandra Johnson is a longtime Olympic fan. While working for the United States Olympic Committee and living in the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Johnson had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46.

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