PORTLAND – Technology has made the feats of gymnastics competitors even more amazing than ever before.
That’s also part of why gymnastics is one of the most popular events to watch during the Olympics.
At just 11, Nikki Mounts the balance beam at West Side Gymnastics the same way as 1972 Olympic darling Olga Korbut did in Munich – but the four inches of wood beneath her feet is much different.
“When Olga was competing they were strictly wooden beams with maybe a slight cover of leather so they were a much harder landing," coach Denise Nontavarnit explained.
The beams of today actually have springs which serve as a shock absorber and add bounce, too.
A rougher texture also helps gymnasts get a better grip with their toes.
“They're doing things on the beam that back in the day, they could only do on the floor," Nontavarnit said.
The floor has also seen its own evolution. Olga bounced on her tumbling passes, but not to the degree of athletes today.
“Basically the floor is springs, plywood and foam with carpet on top," said.
Now gymnasts can do things that seemed impossible in years past.
“Double-backs have been common for a while. Now you'll see Jordan Wieber do a double-twisitng-double-back where she actually does two flips and two twists," Nontavarnit said.
The vault has been made safer by a shift in shape and size. Now it’s much bigger, offering more surface area to place their hands.
“They can block hard and get more height coming off the vault," said Nontavarnit.
On the uneven bars, gymnasts still coat their hands with chalk as Olga did, but the bars today are more round than oval. There’s also more room in between and more bounce.
“When the girls swing down they actually get that pull down and then the bars just pop right back up, and that allows them to get a lot more height over the bars," Nontavarnit said.
All this new technology helps today’s gymnasts reach new heights in their level of competition.
(KGW reporter Cathy Marshall contributed to this report.)