The Bar events are a huge part of both men’s and women’s competition on the gymnastic circuit. There are three types of bar event: high bar, parallel bar, and uneven bars. The high and parallel bars are used in the male events, whereas the uneven bars are used in the female events. All bar apparatus stands on a podium, which is a raised floor with a cushions area with shock-absorbing mats as landing areas.
To score the events, judges award marks in four categories: form, technique, difficulty and composition. Marks are taken away for poor body shape, technical mistakes, falls, pauses and unneeded swings. In some events, a minimum of four judges are assigned to each apparatus. As you can tell, there are countless places where you can go wrong in a bar routine, so the athletes need to be precise, technical, focussed and well-practiced to ensure they score the most points possible, as well as packing their routines with high difficulty movements!
Each bar event is slightly different. Parallel bars require gymnasts to combine held positions to display strength with swinging motions to show control in choreographed series of movements. Athletes have to use the entire length of the bar and include movements both above and below the bar. The level of difficulty links to the amount of points won, for example, a somersault on the parallel bars would be considered particularly difficult. The actually bars are made out of laminated wood or plastic, and have to be permeable, which means they absorb moisture. This is to stop the bars becoming dangerously slippery when a number of athletes have worked, and so sweat, on the equipment.
When competing in the high bar event, the gymnasts are not allowed to touch the bar with their body, but must have a good grip on the bar with their hands. A lot of the movement stems from releasing and regrasping the bars in the midst of forward and backwards swings, over and under the bar. The apparatus is made of steel and is often anchored to the floor with cables. This event is not for the weak hearted, or those scared of heights.
Lastly, the women’s uneven bars event focuses mainly on the movement between the two bars. Athletes are expected to twist and somersault between the two bars which are created, like the men’s high bar, with variations of grip, and letting go of the bar completely. When in flight, the gymnasts aim go as high and be as dramatic as they can. The uneven bars rely on the momentum built up by swings, so technique is essential. The uneven bars are made of the same moisture-absorbent material as the parallel bars.
In all three bar events, the gymnasts must finish their routine with an acrobatic, but controlled, dismount and landing with both feet on the mat. Taking steps after landing leads to point deductions, but the more difficult the landing, the more points gained, so the dismount can really be the make-or-break of the routine.
In all bar events it takes a lot of skill, strength and technique to do well. That does not mean that you could not do it! Go along to your nearest gym and see what you can do! You may surprise yourself…