Gymnastics was born in Ancient Greece, where physical fitness was a highly prized attribute and body development was pursued through athletics in its purest form: running and jumping. The Ancient Romans also practiced Gymnastics but with an eye on physically prepare their soldiers to be unstoppable in battle. Pommel Horse was one of the original ancient events introduced by the Romans to teach soldiers complex ways to mount and dismount a horse. After the Olympic Games were suppressed by Theodosius the Great in 394 AD, Gymnastics disappeared for millennia in Europe, with the exception of tumbling and some acrobats, who performed merely as entertainment or novelty.
But after the Age of Enlightenment reintroduced ancient philosophies on achieving well-being in body and mind, the Scientific Revolution gave way to better understanding of physical education and cardiovascular exercise. It was not only the philosophers and the thinkers who saw the merits of physical exercise; for the military, once again, it became an invaluable tool for training troops.
The father of modern Gymnastics, German Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778-1852), was the first to lay down foundations and a set of rules for group-based exercise. Competitions soon followed. In 1832, Switzerland became the first country to establish a national Gymnastics federation, followed by Germany (1860), Belgium (1865), Poland (1867), Italy (1869) and France (1873). On 23 July 1881, the European Gymnastics Union was created in Antwerp, and evolved into the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).
Early Gymnastics competitions were typically held outdoors and used a variety of apparatus including rope climb, and flying rings, along with group calisthenics routines and team apparatus, such as group parallel bars. The 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki heralded a revolution in Gymnastics and introduced the modern age of the sport with today's six apparatus. The Soviet Union, absent from the 1948 Olympics, stunned the world with their "scientific" school of Gymnastics. The Soviets and Japanese, both with a philosophy that celebrated artistry, technique and originality in performance, spawned a rivalry that lasted decades and rapidly pushed the sport into a new stratosphere of sophistication. Olympic champions like Yukio Endo, Mikhail Voronin, Takashi Ono, Albert Azaryan, and Mitsuo Tsukahara pioneered eponymous skills, stamping their names onto moves now done daily in gyms around the globe.
Swiss coach Arthur Gander (1909-81), president of the FIG from 1966-64, played a critical role in developing the first Code of Points, the basic evaluation system which in is still in use today by Gymnastics judges. Icons of the sports like Boris Shakhlin, Sawao Kato, Nikolai Andrianov, Alexander Dityatin, Li Ning, Alexei Nemov, and Kohei Uchimura have awed audiences and judges alike for 50 years.
Since 1992, world-class Gymnastics competition has been open to specialists, allowing gymnasts to concentrate on as few as one apparatus. The concept of specialists has extended careers and increased competition to an even higher level. A new vaulting table was introduced in 2001, replacing the ancient horse, to accommodate development and safety.