Anthropometric Measurements of Olympic Gymnastics Champions

The Olympic Games brings together the best gymnasts in the world. Studying the changes in anthropometric measurements of the Olympic all-round gymnastics champions can demonstrate how the size and shape of the athletes have changed over time. Gymnasts have generally always been small, as it gives an advantage of better balance and easier rotation in the air, though the diminutiveness of the female gymnasts in particular has been more pronounced in recent times. The following quote highlights the turning point in the 1970s (Nauright and Parrish, 2012)

"Until the 1970s, Olympic [female] gymnastics medalists were typically 22-23 years old, 5 feet 3 inches tall, and 120 pounds. However, at the Montreal games in 1976, changing body types were evident on the competition floor; the average ages and dimensions of winners were shrinking: The typical age was 16.6 years; the height was 5 feet; and weight was 101 pounds. The trend toward younger and smaller athletes, prefigured by Ludmilla Tourischeva in 1968, became the norm during the 1970s."

The lower average age of competitors plays a part in their decreasing body sizes, though changes in the age rules has tried to limit this. In the 1970s the average age of Olympic gymnastics competitors began to gradually decrease, with teenage athletes the norm. In response to the increasing demands of the sport, the age restriction for senior-level competitions was increased in 1980 from 14 to 15 years, then raised again to the current level in 1997 from 15 to 16.

Alberto Braglia poses proudly with his many medals. In Stockholm 1912 All-round winner from 1912: Alberto Braglia

An analysis of all the female US Olympic gymnastics teams by Sands et al. (2012), found that when using linear correlations height, mass, age, BMI have been declining since 1956. This is similar to the result you will see below in the analysis of just the Olympic champions. However, against this trend, second-order polynomial curve fits indicated that in the last four Olympic Games the gymnastics have been getting larger. Maybe we are seeing changes in the ideal body shape required to be a sucessful gymnast.

Anthropometric Measures of Olympic Champions

Here are tables of the height, weight and body mass index (BMI) of the male and female Olympic Games all-round gymnastics champions. Unfortunately, data has not been found for many of the early Olympians. The table data is presented graphically below, clearly showing how these measures have changed over time (years 1956+). Generally, the winning gymnasts have become shorter, lighter and with a lower BMI, with the changes more pronounced in the female gymnasts.

Male all-round champions

Year Winner Height Weight BMI
1900 Gustave Sandras (France)      
1904 Julius Lenhart (USA) 1.68 m / 5 ft 6 in    
1908 Alberto Braglia (Italy)      
1912 Alberto Braglia (Italy)      
1920 Giorgio Zampori (Italy)      
1924 Leon Štukelj (Yugoslavia)      
1928 Georges Miez (Switzerland)      
1932 Romeo Neri (Italy) 1.67 m / 5 ft 5.5 in    
1936 Alfred Schwarzmann (Germany)      
1948 Veikko Huhtanen (Finland) 1.76 m / 5 ft 9 in    
1952 Viktor Chukarin (Soviet Union)
1956 Viktor Chukarin (Soviet Union)
1960 Boris Shakhlin (Soviet Union) 1.71 m / 5 ft 7 in 71 kg / 157 lb 24.3
1964 Yukio Endo (Japan) 1.61 m / 5 ft 3 in 58 kg / 128 lb 22.4
1968 Sawao Kato (Japan) 1.63 m / 5 ft 4 in 59 kg / 130 lb 22.2
1972 Sawao Kato (Japan) 1.63 m / 5 ft 4 in 59 kg / 130 lb 22.2
1976 Nikolai Andrianov (Soviet Union) 1.66 m / 5 ft 5 in 60 kg / 132 lb 21.8
1980 Alexander Dityatin (Soviet Union) 1.71 m / 5 ft 7 in 70 kg / 154 lb 23.9
1984 Kōji Gushiken (Japan) 1.62 m / 5 ft 3.5 in 58 kg / 128 lb 22.1
1988 Vladimir Artemov (Soviet Union) 1.67 m / 5 ft 5.5 in 63 kg / 139 lb 22.6
1992 Vitaly Scherbo (Unified Team) 1.69 m / 5 ft 7 in 68 kg / 150 lb 23.8
1996 Li Xiaoshuang (China) 1.57 m / 5 ft 1.5 in 52 kg / 115 lb 21.1
2000 Alexei Nemov (Russia) 1.74 m / 5 ft 8.5 in 75 kg / 165 lb 24.8
2004 Paul Hamm (USA) 1.65 m / 5 ft 4.5 in 62 kg / 137 lb 22.8
2008 Yang Wei (China) 1.60 m / 5 ft 2.5 in 54 kg / 119 lb 21.1
2012 Kōhei Uchimura (Japan) 1.60 m / 5 ft 2.5 in 55 kg / 121 lb 21.5

Female all-round champions

Year Winner Height Weight BMI
1952 Maria Gorokhovskaya (Soviet Union)      
1956 Larisa Latynina (Soviet Union) 1.61 m / 5 ft 3 in 52 kg / 115 lb 20.1
1960 Larisa Latynina (Soviet Union) 1.61 m / 5 ft 3 in 52 kg / 115 lb 20.1
1964 Věra Čáslavská (Czechoslovakia) 1.60 m / 5 ft 2.5 in 58 kg / 128 lb 22.7
1968 Věra Čáslavská (Czechoslovakia) 1.60 m / 5 ft 2.5 in 58 kg / 128 lb 22.7
1972 Ludmilla Tourischeva (Soviet Union) 1.60 m / 5 ft 2.5 in 52 kg / 115 lb 20.3
1976 Nadia Comăneci (Romania) 1.52 m / 5 ft 0 in 39 kg / 85 lb 16.7
1980 Yelena Davydova (Soviet Union) 1.48 m / 4 ft 10 in 45 kg / 99 lb 20.5
1984 Mary Lou Retton (USA) 1.45 m / 4 ft 9 in 42 kg / 93 lb 20.0
1988 Yelena Shushunova (Soviet Union) 1.47 m / 4 ft 10 in 41 kg / 90 lb 19.0
1992 Tatiana Gutsu (Unified Team) 1.37 m / 4 ft 6 in 32 kg / 70 lb 17.0
1996 Lilia Podkopayeva (Ukraine) 1.49 m / 4 ft 11 in 42 kg / 93 lb 18.9
2000 Simona Amânar (Romania) 1.58 m / 5 ft 2 in 44 kg / 97 lb 17.6
2004 Carly Patterson (USA) 1.52 m / 4 ft 11.5 in 44 kg / 97 lb 19.0
2008 Nastia Liukin (USA) 1.60 m / 5 ft 2.5 in 45 kg / 99 lb 17.6
2012 Gabby Douglas (USA) 1.50 m / 4 ft 11 in 41 kg / 90 lb 18.2

source: height and weight data was collected primarily from the Wikipedia profiles of each athlete, and when none was available, from the sports-reference.com website or other sources.

Height changes over time

The average heights of the Olympic all-round gymnastics champions has generally decreased in the data shown from 1956 until 2012. The decrease in height is more pronounced for the women (red) than the men (blue)

height of Olympic all-round gymnastics champions

Weight changes over time

The body weights of the Olympic all-round gymnastics champions has generally decreased in the data shown from 1956 until 2012, in line with changes in height. The decrease in weight is more pronounced for the women (red) than the men (blue)

weight of Olympic all-round gymnastics champions

BMI changes over time

The BMI of the Olympic all-round gymnastics champions has also has generally decreased in the data shown from 1956 until 2012. The decrease in weight is more pronounced for the women (red) than the men (blue) , with early champions having a BMI over 20, and recent winners from 17-19

bmi of Olympic all-round gymnastics champions

Note: This analysis is for illustrative purposes only. The data was from many different sources, and may also not accurately represent their anthropometric measurements at the time of their competition.

References

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