There are too many times when I would talk about athletics that someone would chime in with: “Is that the one with dancing exercise, the one with the ball, and the one where you twist on two bars?” Of course, it would not be all these at the same time, but you get the idea. This got me thinking that too many people confuse athletics with gymnastics, so here’s a piece to explain the matter in simple terms.
In the interest of keeping it simple, before I elaborate on some of the nuances, is to examine what these two sports are.
Athletics is a group of events that involve running, throwing, jumping, and walking. The point of the sports is to see who can do something the most, like who is the fastest, who can jump the highest or farthest, and who can throw an object the greatest distance away.
On the other hand, we have gymnastics. Gymnastics has disciplines that focus on balance, dexterity, endurance, and flexibility, though there is a lot of strength involved as well. Rhythmic gymnastics, for example, went viral a couple of years ago thanks to Katelyn Onashi’s performance. Gymnastics is focused on more than just raw power and rhythm. It is the coordination of different muscles for different feats and the amazing amount of flexibility and style.
So, the previous section dealt with the basic differences between athletics and gymnastics. However, there are separate events here that you can use to tell the two apart.
Athletics has running events like sprints, middle-distance running, long-distance running, throwing events like discs, javelins, and steel balls, and jumping events like pole vaulting, long jump, and triple jump. These are the events athletics is most famous for.
Gymnastics has events like uneven bars, parallel bars, vault, pommel horse, and still rings. In essence, all gymnastics events, apart from rhythmic gymnastics, take place in a relatively small space.
While we often associate athletics with Ancient Greece, the truth is that the athletic disciplines are much older. As in caveman-old. Competitions that involved running, jumping, and throwing weapons or objects far away have been around from prehistoric times.
Gymnastics have originated in Ancient Greece, where they were a part of education on par with philosophy. The idea behind it was to train men to perform physical feats naked and to be prepared for war.
Athletic events take place outdoors. It’s either in stadiums or on the tracks and pathways. This makes sense, as some events could not be safely performed indoors, like javelin throw, while others require open spaces, such as cross-country running.
Gymnastics events do not require as much space, so competitions and festivals featuring gymnastic performances are usually indoors.
In conclusion, it’s easy to tell the two apart. Athletics is as old as humans, out in the open, and focuses on speed and power. Gymnastics is as old as European civilization, indoors, and focuses on dexterity, timing, and flexibility.