Gymnastics refers to a variety of athletic exercises requiring physical strength, agility, coordination and balance. The sport grew from exercises developed in ancient Greece and the name derives from the Greek word for ‘naked’, as athletes exercised and competed without clothing. More recently specific forms of gymnastics have evolved, including:
- men’s artistic gymnastics (using equipment such as the pommel horse, still rings, vaulting horse, parallel bars and high bar)
- women’s artistic gymnastics (using equipment such as the vaulting horse, uneven bars and balance beam)
- trampoline gymnastics
- rhythmic gymnastics (for women only)
- aerobic gymnastics.
First New Zealand associations
A hall used primarily for gymnastics is called a gymnasium. Such halls were included in New Zealand secondary schools and other institutions from the 19th century. The Auckland Gymnastic Association was formed in 1948, and further local associations followed in the 1950s.
The New Zealand Gymnastic Association was formed in 1956. Its first president was Hungarian-born Andreas Pillich, who, with his German wife, spread knowledge of international gymnastic trends. National championships were held annually from 1958.
In 1964 a New Zealand gymnastics team competed in the Olympics for the first time. In 1978 the women’s team won New Zealand’s first Commonwealth gymnastics medal – a bronze – at Edmonton, Canada.
At the 1990 Commonwealth Games, New Zealand gymnasts won a total of two gold and four bronze medals in various disciplines. That level of success has not been repeated, but in 2014 David Bishop won a bronze medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games for the floor exercise. In 2004 Aucklander Angela McMillan won the Aerobic Gymnastics World Championships in Bulgaria.
Jenkins Gym in Lower Hutt was perhaps New Zealand’s first commercial fitness centre. It was founded in the 1920s by Australian-born Alf Jenkins, who was an avid sportsman and practised acrobatics, bodybuilding, boxing and ju-jitsu. His equipment was originally limited to barbells, dumbells, medicine balls and rubber mats. By 2012 Jenkins Gym offered classes in BodyPump, Tae Bo, Pilates and many other gymnastic disciplines.
The trampoline, a sprung mat in a steel frame, was invented by US gymnast George Nissen in the 1930s. Since 2000 individual trampoline has been included in the Olympic Games. The world trampoline championships were held in Auckland in 1992. In 2011 Dylan Schmidt of Waihī became the junior world trampoline silver medallist. In 2016 Schmidt was selected as New Zealand's first trampoline representative at an Olympic Games.
GymSports New Zealand
In 2006 the New Zealand Gymnastic Association became GymSports New Zealand, responsible for the development, promotion and governance of rhythmic and artistic gymnastics, aerobics, trampoline sports and Gym for All – a movement development programme for all ages. In 2012 GymSports New Zealand represented 105 affiliated clubs. More than 350,000 New Zealanders practised gymnastics in 2012, although only a small proportion took part in formal competitions.