Every four years, Americans watch in awe as Olympic gymnasts make incredibly difficult acrobatic moves look easy. Female gymnasts compete in four events -- vault, floor exercise, balance beam and uneven parallel bars. The best bar workers have tremendous upper-body strength, abdominal strength and back and hip flexibility. Learning advanced moves on bars, such as complicated releases, requires many years of intensive training.
When a gymnast first starts training on uneven bars, she must master the basic moves such as a three-quarter giant, clear hip, stride circle and cast squat on. Giants are the move in which a gymnast swings all the way around the bar with her body extended. In three-quarter giants, the gymnast brings her hips to touch the bar after going over the top. A stride circle is an around-the-bar move in which the gymnast sits on the low bar in the split position and goes all the way around, hanging on with one hand on either side of her hips. The basic skills focus on developing the courage and momentum to travel around the bar.
Release moves require a gymnast to let go of the bar, complete a move in the air and grasp it again. Some release moves go around one bar, usually the high bar. Others allow transition from one bar to the other. One of the most common release moves is the Tkachev, a skill with C-level difficulty, in which the gymnast releases the high bar in front, goes over the top of the bar and regrasps on the other side. Gymnasts do Tkachev releases in both the straddle and piked positions. A common high-bar-to-low-bar release is the Pak salto, in which the gymnasts lets go of the high bar on the front of a swing, completes the rotation in the air and grasps the low bar in a handstand position.
Handstands and Pirouettes
Gymnastics judges look for exact handstands on bars, and a standard feature of any elite gymnast's routine is a series of handstands and handstand pirouettes on the high bar. The 2008 Olympic All-Around champion, Nastia Liukin, famously performed an Ono pirouette on the high bar, a full-twisting pirouette on one hand, with her body in a perfect handstand, her legs pressed together and her toes pointed. She then set the standard even higher for future gymnasts by doing an additional half-turn. Pirouettes require the gymnast to rapidly reverse their grip on the bar.
The dismount is the way in which the gymnast gets off the bars and finishes her routine. Sticking a complicated dismount is the dream of all gymnasts, and the uneven bars raise the stakes by requiring them to initiate the move high in the air. One basic dismount move is the flyaway, in which the gymnast completes a single flip in the air, sometimes with her body in the laid-out position, before landing facing forward. Variations on the salto, in which the gymnast turns in the air to face the opposite direction on landing, are numerous and vary in difficulty based on the number of twists the gymnast performs before landing.
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