Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Summer

Rhythmic gymnastics blends art, sport

Rhythmic gymnastics blend art and sport by performing to music with various apparatus

Athletes perform to music using a handful of apparatus

Thai gymnast Tharatip Sridee competes in the Southeast Asian Games in December. ((Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images) )

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In rhythmic gymnastics, the perfect blend of entertainment and athleticism, competitors perform to music using rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon.  

Rhythmic gymnasts compete on a floor area that is 13 metres wide and 13 metres long. The central area is surrounded on all sides by a strip that is 50 centimetres wide. That allows extra space for group performances.  

The hoop is made of wood or plastic with a diameter between 80 and 90 centimeters. It weighs at least 300 grams. An athlete must include three leaps with the hoop.

The ball is made of rubber or a rubber-like synthetic material. It is between 18 and 20 centimeters in diameter and weighs 400 grams.

The satin ribbon is at least six metres long and four to six centimeters wide. The ribbon is attached to a stick and kept in perpetual, fluid motion through the entire routine.

Two clubs, each between 40 and 50 centimetres, are shaped like bowling pins and are made of wood or a synthetic substance. Each weighs 150 grams.

Competition format 

The Olympic program includes the individual all-around event and the group event. Each includes a qualification round and a final. 

In the individual event, qualification lasts three days. On one day, competitors perform two exercises – one with a hoop, the other with a ball. On another day, they perform two more exercises – one with clubs, one with ribbons. The athletes are ranked on their total overall scores. Ten of 24 athletes advance to the final.  

In the final, competitors perform routines with each of the four apparatus. The competitor who finishes with the highest overall score is declared the winner.  

In the group event, 12 teams perform two routines, the first is with five ropes, the second is with three hoops and two clubs. The teams are ranked based on total points, and the top eight finishers advance to the final.  

In the final, each group performs with both sets of apparatus. The highest-scoring group wins gold. 

Vietnam's Hoai Thu Luu turns heads at the Southeast Asian Games in Thailand in December 2007. ((Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images))
Name of the game

In the individual competition at the Beijing Games, athletes use four of the sport’s five apparatus. (The sport’s international governing body will determine which apparatus will be excluded.) Each routine lasts between 75 and 90 seconds.

In the group event, five gymnasts perform together using the same apparatus, or with a combination of two apparatus. The international governing body determines which apparatus can be used. Each routine lasts between two minutes, 15 seconds and two minutes, 30 seconds.

Panels of judges rate the performances in every competition. The first panel assesses composition (technical and artistic value) and the second looks at execution. That includes apparatus technique, body movements and music among other elements.

Top gymnasts are 'graceful'

Rhythmic gymnasts have incredible hand-eye coordination, and perform difficult body movements in combination with skillful handling of apparatus. Learning and honing such skills requires years of dedication.

Carol Angela Orchard, former CBC rhythmic gymnastics analyst, says top rhythmic gymnasts are graceful and make their movements look effortless.

"Notice how they contort their bodies in relation to the hand apparatus. One cannot be separated from the other," Orchard explains. "If they're really good at it, you almost don't notice the apparatus, it becomes one with the body."