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GYMNASTICS, THE OLYMPIC GAMES AND WALES

Gymnastic events have been contested at every summer Olympiad since the birth of the modern Games at the 1896 event in Athens. Those first Games were declared open by King George I of Greece on 6 April and featured 245 athletes, all men, from 14 nations.

There were five individual gymnastic events - Parallel Bars, Long Horse Vault, Pommel Horse, Rings, Horizontal Bar and Rope Climbing – and two team events – Parallel Bars and Horizontal Bar. There were 71 competitors from nine nations with the Germans striking five gold, three silver and two bronze medals.

The German gymnast Alfred Flatow might well have expected a hero’s welcome after returning from Athens with three gold medals and a silver, yet instead he found himself banned for two years for taking part in an unauthorised international event. A worse fate was to befall him in 1942 when, because he was Jewish, he was deported by the Nazis to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. He died there later that year. In 1987, a street in Berlin was named in his honour.

The Greeks won two gold medals, one of which was decided by Prince Georgios of Greece. With the six judges split on whether the gold should go to home hero Ionannis Mitropoulos or Germany’s Herman Weingartner, the final decision was made by a member of the local Royal family! Mitropoulos became the first Greek winner in the Olympic Stadium.

He also won a bronze medal in the team event in the Parallel Bars, when one of his team mates was Dimitrios Loundras, who was only 10 years 218 years old.

The only British gymnast at those inaugural Games was Launceston Elliot. The Scot finished in last place in the rope climbing competition, failing to make it to the top of the 14 metre rope after retiring just below the 12.5 metre height achieved by the bronze medalist.

Elliot might not have distinguished himself in the rope climbing event, nor in the 100 metres event in which he placed third in his heat, but he still holds the distinction of being Britain’s first Olympic gold medalist. His forte was weightlifting and, after taking silver in the two handed bar bell lift, he won the gold medal in the one handed lift.

He also took part in the wrestling event, where he was beaten in his first round match by the German gymnast Carl Schuhmann. The remarkable German all-rounder won the Greco-Roman wrestling title to add to his three gymnastics gold medals to end up as the most successful competitor in Athens.

For the first 32 years only men were allowed to compete in gymnastics events at the Olympic Games. Women’s events were introduced for the first time in Amsterdam in 1928, with rhythmic gymnastics being added at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Trampolining was introduced in Sydney in 2000.

Welsh gymnasts compete in the British team at the Olympic Games and have a rich history. The British team made its bow at the 1908 Games in London, when it finished last of the eight nations taking part. There were 45 members of the British team and no fewer than seven of them were from Wales.

WELSH GYMNASTICS’ FIRST OLYMPIANS

Name Age Club 
Percy Baker  28 St Saviour’s GC
William Cowhig 21 Powell’s Tillery GC
Sid Domville 22 St Saviour’s GC
George Meade  21  Powell’s Tillery GC
Charles Sederman 27 St Saviour’s GC
William Titt 27 St Saviour’s GC
Edgar Watkins  21 Powell’s Tillery GC

 

Walter Tysall won Britain’s first gymnastics medal with his silver in the Men’s All-Round competition - Horizontal Bar (swinging and slow movements), Parallel Bars, Pommel Horse, Rings (stationary and swinging movements), and Rope Climb - and Domville and Meade also took part in the event. Four years later Cowhig and Titt returned to the Games as part of the British team that won the bronze medal in the team event – to this day the only Welsh gymnasts to win an Olympic medal.

Born in Maesteg, Cowhig became the first Welsh gymnast to go to three Games’ when he was included with Domville, Wyndham Evans, Stan Leigh and Edward Pugh in the British team at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. The team finished in fifth place.

Those early heroes paved the way for so many others to follow in their footsteps, making gymnastics the second biggest contributor to British Olympic teams of all Welsh sports behind athletics. There have been 58 athletics Olympians from Wales and 35 in gymnastics (not including Brinn Bevan, Neil Thomas or trampolinist Claire Wright, who was studying at Uwic).

OLYMPIC GYMNASTS FROM WALES

t = Team
i – Individual
* = Medalist

^ = Born in Wales, competed for England
^^ = Welsh qualified from 2019

Percy Baker                                    1908 (8t)
Brinn Bevan ^^                                2016 (4t – 17 r1/2))
Carl Beynon                                    1984 (9t – 64i)
Ken Buffin                                       1948 (12t – 79i)                1952 (21t – 115i)              1960 (19t – 114i)
William Cowhig                               1908 (8t)                           1912 (3t – 29i) *               1920 (5t)
Bert Cronin                                      1928 (11t – 76i)
Cissy Davies (Saunders)                1948 (9t)                           1952 (16t – 103i)
Sid Domville                                    1908 (45i)                         1920 (5t)
Wyndham Edwards                         1920 (5t)
Pat Evans (Whitford)                       1948 (9t)
Denise Goddard                              1964 (71i)
Graham Harcourt                            1952 (21t – 160i)
Glyn Hopkins                                   1948 (12t – 111i)
Pamela Hopkins (Hardwicke)          1972 (18t – 114i)
Tom Hopkins                                   1924 (6t – 55i)
Frankie Jones                                  2012 (24i)
Sonia Lawrence                              1996 (71i)
Ernie Leigh                                      1924 (6t – 55i)
Stan Leigh                                       1920 (5t)                           1924 (6t – 35i)
Gwynedd Lewis (Lingard)               1952 (16t – 78i)                 1960 (17t – 103i)
Percy May                                       1948 (12t – 92i)
George Meade                                1908 (37i)
Margaret Morgan                            1952 (16t – 111i)
Andrew Morris                                 1984 (9t – 24i)                  1988 (81i)
John Mulhall                                    1960 (19t – 112i)              1964 (115i)
Valerie Mullins                                 1952 (16t – 126i)
Pat Perks                                         1960 (17t – 107i)
Edward Pugh                                   1920 (5t)
Charles Sederman                           1908 (8t)
Dot Summers                                   1960 (17t – 118i)
Margaret Thomas (Neale)                1952 (16t – 112i)             1960 (17t – 108i)
Neil Thomas ^                                  1992 (12t – 20i)
William Titt                                        1908 (8t)                          1912 (3t) *
Ivor Vice                                            1948 (12t – 112i)
Edgar Watkins                                  1908 (8t)
Arthur Whitford                                 1928 (11t – 63i)
Jack Whitford                                    1952 (21t – 98i)