For the unfamiliar, rhythmic gymnasts use hula hoops and other “apparatus” to show high standards of balance, flexibility, coordination and strength that are pretty much guaranteed to keep you watching. Hoop dance and rhythmic gymnastics do indeed have some overlap too. Musicality, grace and flow are essential. The hoops may be made of wood or plastic, with an inner diameter of 80 to 90 centimeters and they must weigh at least 300 grams (or approximately 31.5 to 35.5 inches and 10.6 ounces).
During the individual events this weekend participants will perform four different floor routines, one for each apparatus – hoop, ball, clubs or ribbon. As for the group competition, it consists of five gymnasts performing two routines. In the first routine, all five gymnasts use the same apparatus. In the second routine, three of the gymnasts use one apparatus and the remaining two gymnasts use a different one. The governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), selects which apparatus will be used in each competition season.
Rhythmic gymnastics incorporates more dance movements than its artistic gymnastics cousin and marks are awarded according to specified technical criteria as well as artistic beauty. During the exercise, the hoop (or other apparatus) must be in constant motion, using movements that show variety of shape, amplitude, direction, plane and speed. In fact the hoop or other apparatus must be handled with as much variety as possible. Like synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics has been open only to women since it became an Olympic sport during the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games in 1984 and again, there are two competition categories in the 2012 Olympic Games: Women’s Individual All Around and Women’s Group All Around. Are you excited? We certainly are and here’s the rundown on what happened this morning and who to watch out for this weekend.Stars to keep an eye on in the 2012 Olympic games include Yevgeniya Kanayeva (Russia), Daria Dmitrieva (Russia), Neta Rivkin (Israel), Liubou Charkashyna (Belarus), Silviya Miteva (Bulgaria), and Aliya Garayeva (Azerbaijan). Russia, Bulgaria, Italy, and Belarus are among the top teams to watch in the group competition. Qualification events began this morning, and the finals take place on Saturday for individual events and Sunday for group events.
Earlier today, Daria Dmitrieva upstaged Evgeniya Kanaeva, taking advantage of the defending Olympic champion’s mistake in her hoop routine to top the standings halfway through the individual qualifying round. With 57.80 points, Dmitrieva is currently 0.175 points ahead of Kanaeva. Liubou Charkashnya of Belarus came in third with Yeon-Jae Son of South Korea, Aliya Gariyeva of Azarbaijan, and Silviya Miteva of Bulgaria rounding out the top six. The twenty four competitors will complete the qualification round on Friday, competing with the ribbon and clubs. Only the top ten gymnasts will advance to Saturday’s all-around final.
Russia also continued its big day in group qualifications, taking the lead over three-time world champion Italy. Russia, seeking its fourth straight Olympic title, scored 28.375 points for its routine with five balls while Italy was .275 points behind. Qualifying continues Friday with three ribbons and two hoops, and the top eight teams advance to Sunday’s final.
Kanaeva is heavily favored to become the first two-time Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics. She has won the all around title at the last three World Championships and was so dominant at last year’s world championships that she also won all four individual events, as well as a gold in the team competition.But Kanaeva made an uncharacteristic mistake in her first routine of the day, hoop. Tossing her gold — naturally — hoop high into the air, she mistimed the catch and the ring bounced off her chest and skittered away. Kanaeva quickly chased the hoop down, a look of shock on her face, but judges had no choice but to lower her execution mark. Adding to the Olympic drama, Dmitrieva wasn’t even supposed to be in London, only making the Olympic team earlier this month after Alexandra Merkulova injured her foot.
We’re also keeping an eye on Julie Zetlin, the only American to qualify for the competition this year (see our earlier story). Zetlin is unlikely to make the final round as she is currently in 22nd after making mistakes in both her ball and hoop routines. “With this being my first Olympic Games, it was a whole different feeling. A whole different adrenaline rush I’d never felt before,” Zetlin said. “When I was in my beginning poses, I felt a little shaky.”
And it was in one of those early poses when her first error occurred. Cradling her ball in her leg that was bent overhead, the ball popped out and rolled away from her. “That’s not a mistake I ever make. It was my first routine, and I was nervous,” she said.
Here are some videos of the past to inspire and give us a taste of what we are in for weekend.
Yevgeniya Kanayeva of Russia swept the gold medals in every event (hoop, ball, clubs, ribbon, all around, and team) at the 2011 World Championships in France and the 2011 Grand Prix. She has placed first in all around and every event final at the World Cup since 2009. She holds the record for most World Championship titles (17) and she is the only rhythmic gymnast to score a perfect 30 under the new code of points.
Daria Dmitrieva won silver in four events (ball, hoop, ribbon, all around) at the 2012 World Cup in Minsk and placed second in every event at the 2011 Grand Prix.
Liubou Charkashyna of Belarus took first place at the 2011 Montreal World Cup. At the 2011 European Championships, she won gold in both the ball and club events, silver in the team competition, and a bronze in hoop.
Neta Rivkin (Israel) placed second in hoop at the 2011 European Championships and third in hoop at the 2011 World Championships.
Aliya Garayeva of Azerbaijan placed third in all events (hoop, ribbons, club, ball, and all around) at the 2011 Grand Prix.
At the 2010 World Championships, Russia placed first in the five hoops event and won bronze in the group all around. They won first place in the five balls event and placed second in the group all around at the 2011 World Championships. They have won the group all around at the past three Olympics.
Bulgaria won gold in the three ribbons/two hoops event and bronze in the group all around at the 2011 World Championships.
Italy won silver in the five balls event at the 2011 World Championships and has won the group all around at the last three World Championships.
Belarus placed fourth in the five balls event at the 2011 World Championships. This routine from 2007 features three hoops and four clubs.
As a side note, men’s rhythmic gymnastics does in fact exist as well, although not as an Olympic sport. Like women’s rhythmic gymnastics, the men’s version has several different apparatus for individual events: double rings (which are very similar to mini hoops), stick, rope, and clubs. The group competition for the men does not use any apparatus. While women’s rhythmic gymnastics focuses on dance and flexibility, men’s rhythmic gymnastics incorporates more tumbling as well as martial arts skills. Men’s rhythmic gymnastics is not sanctioned by the FIG, but international competitions are held.
Men’s Double Ring Routine:
Men’s Group Routine:
Rhythmic gymnastics originally evolved in the 1800s from a host of related disciplines. It incorporated elements from classical ballet, such as pliés and arabesques, as well as the German system of emphasizing apparatus work for muscle development and the Swedish method of using free exercise to develop rhythm. The first experimental competitions appeared in eastern Europe in the 1930s and the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) recognized rhythmic gymnastics as an official discipline in 1963. A year later the first organized international tournament was held in Budapest – the first Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships. For more information on Rhythmic Gymnastics at the 2012 Olympic Games visit the official site.