A Forgotten Olympic Sport

Most people know Gymnastics as an Olympic sport, some people have heard of Rhythmic Gymnastics (where people prance about holding a koosh ball or swinging a hula hoop around; the sport is less about flips and more about contortionism) and every once in a while people see Trampoline Gymnastics.  The interesting thing is that the Olympic committee has axed dozens of sports over the years.  Among the sports forgotten in the annals of time was Swedish Gymnastics, better known (while still remaining fully unknown) as Medical Gymnastics or Ling Gymnastics.

Said to have been created by Pehr Henrik Ling, Ling gymnastics were invented around 1810.  Ling was a fencing master who traveled the world until his joints gave out, and upon returning home to Sweden he discovered that a year or two of his daily exercises for fencing allowed him a full recovery.  He began to pull together a list of motions and exercises that would help speed healing and generally improve health and fitness of those who practiced them.  Basically, it was the 19th century version of Tae Bo (Billy Blanks, eat your heart out) and the Swedish government took it seriously.  The Royal Gymnastic Central Institute was formed in 1813, and Ling’s exercises began to be criticized by fellow medical practitioners who argued that the massages and exercises that Medical Gymnastics advised were crock and should not be given an official seal of approval.  The critiques fell upon deaf ears, since Ling was appointed as a Fellow within the Swedish Medical Society in 1831.

Ling gymnastics were broken into 4 realms: Medical, Aesthetic, Military and Pedagogic.  The Medical side of it is falsely cited as the origin of the Swedish Massage, which was actually created by a Dutchman.  Medical and Military gymnastics within Ling’s style focused on resistance training on lever joints in the body, an old version of Modern Crossfit in a way.  Aesthetic gymnastics was about grace and motion, while Pedagogic gymnastics from Ling gymnastics is thought to be one of the origin points for modern Physical Therapy.

In 1912, when the Olympics were in Stockholm, the Swedes took the opportunity to showcase their pride and joy by adding the sport to the games.  Again in 1948, the opening ceremony was graced by a demonstration of Swedish Gymnastics done by a squadron of fifty plus young people.  Oddly enough, the sport never caught on and like Ballooning (Hot Air Balloon racing, it was a sport in 1900) it was never added to the games officially.



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