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
|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)