Gymnastics guide - London 2012 Olympic Games

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

Photograph: Gymnastics via Shutterstock

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.

RECOMMENDED: See our full list of London 2012 Olympic sport guides

Gymnastics - The essential guide

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 group of newcomers, 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.

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 team titles.

Rhythmic – this is where 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.