US Gymnastics Olympic trials: What are differences between men’s and women’s gymnastics events?

When Simone Biles landed the Yurchenko double pike on vault at the 2021 U.S. Classic, she was only the sixth person ever to do so in competition – male or female. However, vault is one of the only gymnastics elements on which men and women can be directly compared.

As the best gymnasts in the nation battle in St. Louis this weekend for spots on the Olympic team, viewers at home will see drastically different disciplines between the men's and women's competition. Whether you're watching the precision of the women on the balance beam or the brute strength of the men's still rings, here's everything you need to know about men's versus women's gymnastics:

Floor exercise

The men's and women's floor exercises are fundamentally similar, but the artistic performance aspect of the women's discipline is missing from the men's. Both events require athletes to complete challenging tumbling passes and acrobatic elements across a spring floor. However, the women's routines are 90 second compared to 70 seconds for the men's because the women's event is set to music and includes dance and other performance elements in between passes. In the men's floor exercise, athletes simply progress directly from one skill to another, and there is no music.

Aly Raisman during the floor exercise in the 2016 women's gymnastics U.S. Olympic team trials at SAP Center. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sport)

When the modern Olympics began in 1896, only men competed, and gymnastics was only about demonstrating strength. When women's gymnastics was introduced in its current form in 1952, music was added to feminize the event.  

Vault

Jacob Dalton (USA) competes on the vault during the men's team final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Rio Olympic Arena. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

The vault is the one element that is nearly identical between both men's and women's gymnastics. Athletes take a running approach to vault over a table and perform flips and twists in various positions in the air before attempting to stick the landing. Both disciplines use the same table, and it is not uncommon to see women and men compete the same skills – Biles' Yurchenko double pike is just one example. 

Bars

Chris Brooks (USA) on the high bar during the men's artistic individual all-around finals in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Rio Olympic Arena. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sport)

While both men and women compete on events that use a bar, that is largely where the comparisons end. Women compete on the uneven parallel bars, in which athletes perform various acrobatic skills while transitioning between a higher and lower bar throughout their routine.

The men's competition includes two different bar exercises: the high bar and the parallel bars. The high bar has similarities to the women's uneven bars, as women will perform similar skills around the higher of their two bars to those competed on the men's high bar. The high bar simply lacks the transition skills that are key in uneven bar routines. On the parallel bars, athletes move across and between bars that are approximately 11.5 feet long and 6.5 feet tall without touching the ground. The exercise emphasizes strength holds and positions over acrobatics.

Unique women's events

Laurie Hernandez during the women's balance beam finals in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Rio Olympic Arena. (Photo: Andrew P. Scott, USA TODAY Sports)

The balance beam is the final remaining event on the women's program, and it does not have an equivalent in the men's competition. In the discipline, women perform tumbling, acrobatics and dance elements on a beam that is just four inches wide. There is no explicit reason why men do not compete on the balance beam. 

Unique men's events

Alexander Naddour competes during the pommel horse finals in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Rio Olympic Arena. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

While the women's program contains only four disciplines, men compete in six. The two events without any comparison in the women's competition are the pommel horse and the still rings, both heavily reliant on the upper body. On the still rings, gymnasts hold onto two hanging rings and perform various strength skills that include swings and holds like the iconic iron cross (where athletes hold their arms parallel to the floor). 

In the pommel horse, athletes swing themselves around and across the apparatus using only their hands to hold themselves up. However, the event does not require strength holds like the parallel bars or the still rings. 

Contact Emily Adams at [email protected] or on Twitter @eaadams6.

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