Gymnastics guide - London 2012 Olympic Games

Your complete guide to gymnastics ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

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Converted: A mesmeric show of feline agility, swan-like elegance and strength equal to a badger's.

Confused: Hula hoops, ribbons and trampolines... sounds more like the contents of an eight-year-old girl's bedroom than an Olympic sport.

Gymnastics - The essential guide

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Street cred: Declaring an affiliation to gymnastics does not traditionally make you look as cool as, for instance, saying you can play the guitar solo for ‘I Am the Resurrection’. But the rise of a talented troupe of British teenagers, many of them male, is changing perceptions.

Who’s good? China won 11 out of 18 gold medals in Beijing, although the USA and Russia look strongest in the blue riband women’s artistic event.

Glory-hunting potential: Britain has its best ever crop of talent in artistic as star performer Beth Tweddle is joined by a group of promising young men, led by Beijing bronze medallist Louis Smith. There is also an outside chance of a medal in trampoline.

The basics: Olympic gymnastics is divided into three separate disciplines, which are scored by a panel of judges.

• Artistic – this is the one with all the apparatus that your mum likes. It consists of four men-only events (pommel horse, rings, horizontal bars and uneven bars), two women-only events (balance beam and uneven bars) and two events for both genders (vault and floor). Athletes compete for medals in each individual apparatus, with their combined scores totted up to determine the all-around and team titles.  

• Rhythmic – this is where the hula hoops and ribbons come in. A girl-only discipline where athletes perform a short floor routine to music using the props mentioned. The ball and the club are other options. 

• Trampoline – a simple event to fathom, it basically involves repeated bouncing. The important part, however, is what athletes do while they’re in mid-air, with scores given for difficulty, execution and flight time.

Athlete to watch: He Kexin, the 4ft 11in uneven bars specialist, was one of several Chinese athletes dogged by allegations they were underage when competing in Beijing. This time around, she can compete free from controversy.

Almost useless fact: In the ancient Olympics, gymnastics was a male-only event and all athletes would compete in the nude. Only in ancient Greece...

As seen in: Camp, cheesy movies such as the accidentally hilarious ‘Gymkata’ (1985), starring real-life Olympic champion Kurt Thomas.

British Olympic hopefuls

© Alan Edwards/British Gymnastics

What would your advice be to someone taking up your career?

You have to be really patient. You won’t see results straight away but it will be worth all the hard work.

What sacrifices have you had to make? Do you regret any?

Moving to a different school to do my exams was really tough and I missed my friends and my family, but if I hadn’t gone through that I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

What's your favourite London spot?

I always love going past the London Eye.

What goes through your head while competing?

I perform better if I don’t think too much beforehand so I try to become kind of empty-headed before I go onto the floor.

What physical aspect of yourself are you most proud of?

I’ve had to work so hard to overcome my lack of flexibility so I’m probably most proud of that. I’m least proud of my leg stretch because my leaps and jumps have always been my weakest element.

What will be unique about a London Olympics?

It’s always so special to compete in front of a home crowd. You can feel the different atmosphere when you’re competing.