Gymnastics is Art, not Sport

Art’s worth is determined by how it is interpreted by others rather than an objective set of rules. There are some musicians, dancers, actors, and comedians that are better than others, but quantifying their performances, especially at a high level of technical expertise, is mostly subjective. Gymnastics is more performance art than sport.

Yep, you read that right. Now let me tell you what you did not read. I did not say that gymnasts are not athletes. I did not say that gymnastics is not entertaining. I did not say that it doesn’t belong in the Olympics. I did not say that I don’t respect the commitment and work that it takes to be great in the discipline. I simply believe that the competition, by its very nature, does not fit within my very broad view of what constitutes sport.

I believe that in order to embody the spirit of a sport, a competition should have a clear, well-defined objective and that there should be a clearly defined difference between a winner and a loser.

  • In all forms of races the goal is to cross the finish line before your opponents. The athlete who does this is the winner.
  • In sports with goals (basketball, soccer, water polo, hockey, handball, football, etc.) the object is to move the ball to a specific point. The team or individual that does this the most will win the game.
  • In volley games (volleyball, tennis, table tennis, racquetball, etc.) the last player to land the ball in his opponent’s territory wins the point.
  • Target sports (archery, shooting, curling, and even horseshoes) regulate that the player closest to the target will win.
  • The weightlifter who gets the most weight to the correct position will win.
  • Even a ridiculously complicated sport like baseball has simple, well-defined objectives of advancing through three bases to arrive at home plate (although it has always baffled me that it is one of the only sports where the defense controls the ball).

What is gymnastics clear objective? Get a group of judges to score your performance higher than anyone else’s? I’m not just picking on gymnastics. Diving, equestrian events, synchronized swimming, figure skating, and often boxing are other Olympic sports that are just as ridiculous in their declarations of winners and losers. An audience’s reaction to the performance (judges’ numerical scoring) determines the winner.

The obvious argument against my reasoning is that all sports are subject to misapplication of rulings by humans. Referees, umpires, officials, timekeepers, and scorekeepers make mistakes, but in objective sporting events they are not making decisions that are the sole difference between losing and winning. If a referee makes a bad call the team can overcome it and still win by making shots, running faster, or scoring goals. In subjective sports the judge simply tells you who won after the performance. Apart from appealing to a governing body there is no way to overcome a mistaken official even through superior performance. I won’t even discuss the possibility of brazenly biased or incompetent judges.

In 2008 the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) changed the familiar ten-point scale to a more fair, if completely incomprehensible, scoring system. Each element is given a starting point value based on difficulty and there are specific guidelines for deductions…but the outcome is still based entirely on how a small group of people interpret an individual’s performance. That sounds like a recital, pageant, or concert to me.

Disagree? That’s why there’s a “Leave a Comment” button below.


About Jeff Postlewaite

high school principal since '07, father since '04, teacher since '03, husband since '03, sound tech since '96, UVA fan since '92, gadget junkie since '89, Christian since '88, Giants fan since '84, golfer since '83, brother since '83, human since '81

Posted on July 30, 2012, in Olympic Games and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I agree – I call the objective events sports and the subjective events games, but maybe competition is a better word for those. I even wondered what it would be like if we made all the events subjective, in this post of mine.

    • I’ve always wondered where the line is between game and sport. I’m not sure I agree that sports can’t be played for fun but it is certainly something to think about as I’ve never played a pickup game of steeple chase or hammer throw.

  2. Jeff-
    I feel bad now. I will call you the next time we have that hammer throw pickup game. Didn’t know you would be interested in it.

  3. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one 🙂

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