Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Summer

Pommel horse hard to handle

Pommel horse is a tough apparatus; gymnasts use only hands for support

Gymnast uses only his hands for support

The gymnast's legs should remain straight and his toes should be pointed during a routine. France's Raphael Wignanitz gets it right at the European championships in Switzerland in May 2008. ((Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images) )

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The pommel horse doesn’t feature dramatic dismounts or double saltos, and is the least acrobatic of the men’s events. A routine on this apparatus isn’t glamorous, but it is gruelling.  

In a pommel horse routine, the gymnast moves back and forth across the horse – a padded, wood-and- steel apparatus with a pair of handles (or pommels) attached – using continuous swinging and circular motions with his torso and legs, using only his hands for support.  

Poetry in motion

Carol Angela Orchard, a gymnastics coach at Seneca College in Toronto, says the pommel horse is difficult because it requires an incredible amount of upper body strength.  

Athletes with long arms have a slight advantage, but they need more than that. To succeed on this apparatus, they must also be able to swing their legs with fluidity and grace.

"It should be almost like poetry," says Orchard. "You shouldn’t see any struggle or strain. The judges are looking for full extension, fluid swings and lots of amplitude through the legs and the hips."

Hand placement should be quick, quiet and rhythmic in a routine. Hands should be the only part of the gymnast’s body that touches the horse. The gymnast’s legs should remain straight and his toes should be pointed on all swing and scissor moves.  

All the right moves

Gymnasts routinely perform flops (multiple hand placements on one pommel) and travel forward and backward along the length of the horse.  

A routine contains at least one scissor movement and continuous, circular movements on all three parts of the horse (middle and both ends).

Fully Equipped

The pommel horse is 1.15 metres off the ground. It is 1.6 metres long and 25 centimetres wide. The handles, or pommels, are 40 to 45 centimetres apart. Each pommel is 12 centimetres high.

The pommel horse is a wood structure covered with foam and leather.  The handles are sometimes covered with a rubber compound.

Keeping score

Gymnastics scoring has changed since the Athens Games. In 2005, the old scoring system was replaced by a code of points system that creates greater separation between competitors’ scores.  

In the new system, one panel of judges assesses difficulty. These judges look at how high-level skills are connected in a routine, and at the various skills and elements. The starting point is zero. 

A second panel of judges assesses execution. Deductions are made for shortcomings in technique, execution and composition or artistry. Deductions now range from 0.1 points to 0.8 points. The starting point is 10 points.

The final score is determined by adding the difficulty score and the execution score. A typical score under today's rules is in the high teens. The "perfect 10" no longer exists as a final score, though it can be awarded for execution.