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Gymnastics at the 1904 St. Louis Summer Games

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Sports:

Host City: St. Louis, United States
Date Started: July 1, 1904
Date Finished: July 2, 1904
Events: 12

Participants: 121 (121 men and 0 women) from 4 countries
Youngest Participant: USA George Mastrovich (18 years, 128 days)
Oldest Participant: USA Charles Sorum (37 years, 112 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): USA George Eyser and USA Anton Heida (6 medals)
Most Medals (Country): USA United States (29 medals)

Overview

There were really two gymnastics competitions held at the 1904 Olympics. On 1-2 July 1904 Turnverein gymnastics was contested on the field of the Olympic Stadium. Turnverein gymnastics originated in Germany and Eastern Europe, sparked by the Bohemian Sokol movement. It often consisted of a combination of both gymnastics exercises as well as track & field exercises. At this time Turnverein gymnastics competed with Swedish gymnastics and their proponents for control of the sport. Swedish gymnastics consisted basically of only gymnastics exercises without the track & field events associated with them. Swedish gymnastics-type events were held at the 1904 Olympics, as well, this time on 28 October 1904, or almost four months after the Turnverein gymnastics.

The Turnverein gymnastics consisted essentially of six events: horizontal bar, parallel bars, side and long horses, 100 yard run, shot put and long jump. On the horizontal bar, parallel bars and horse, each contestant executed three different exercises, two compulsory and one optional. In a sense, then, the Turnverein gymnastics consisted of 12 events as it is often listed. The official rules noted that the events would be conducted under the rules of the North American Gymnastic Union (Turnerbund).

Medals were given out for the top individual and team performance in the 12 events or basically an all-around competition in Turnverein gymnastics. However, medals were also given out for the best performance in the nine events consisting of only gymnastics work. Finally, a "triathlon" consisting of scores obtained only in the three track & field events was also scored and medals were given out for that competition. This was definitely held as part of the Turnverein gymnastics competition, and not part of the track & field events. However, in many Olympic reference books it is listed with the track & field program, which can hardly be faulted since they were all track & field events. In fact, two days after the Turnverein gymnastics finished on 4 July 1904, the all-around competition was held on the same field by several of the same competitors who competed in the triathlon. This was two months prior to the track & field events of the 1904 Olympics but that event is almost always considered as part of the track & field competition.

Turnverein gymnastics in this country was contested almost entirely by athletes of German and Scandinavian descent who had emigrated to this country. The 1904 Turnverein gymnastic events are certainly of Olympic caliber. A team of multiple gymnasts from Berlin competed, representing Germany. In addition, we know that many of the athletes representing other American Turnvereins were still almost certainly of foreign nationality, not yet having obtained their American nationality. In many cases their precise nationality cannot be determined.

The Swedish gymnastics competitions which were held in October 1904 are of marginal Olympic caliber. These were the AAU Gymnastics Championships for that year and there were no foreign entrants or foreign competitors. In all Olympic reference books they have been listed as an Olympic event, which I consider acceptable as the rules in no way excluded foreign athletes.

Perhaps the best story from the AAU Gymnastics concerns the exploits of George Eyser. George Eyser competed in the Turnverein gymnastics and the Swedish gymnastics of the 1904 Olympics. In the Turnverein gymnastics he did superbly on the gymnastics apparatus events but finished dead last in the track & field competition, hampered especially by very poor scores in the 100 yard dash and long jump. At the Swedish gymnastics competition, he won six Olympic medals including three gold. He did this entirely with his upper body strength and it becomes more clear why he scored so poorly in the running events at the Turnverein gymnastics when one realizes that he had lost one of his legs as a youth when it was run over by a train. He competed at the Olympics as a gymnast with a wooden leg.

Medalists