In just over a week's time, 800 gymnasts from 30 British Gymnastics clubs will be heading out for the biggest gymnastics’ festival in the world, the 16th World Gymnaestrada from Dornbirn, Austria.
Since the event’s inception in 1953, the number of nations has grown from 14 to 62, spreading across five continents, and the number of participants has quadrupled!
The event has moved across much of Europe and this year Dornbirn will become the first city to host its second Gymnaestrada.
The name Gymnaestrada is formed from the words gymnastik (international name for all sports relating to gymnastics), estrada (stage) and strada (street).
The origins of the festival can be traced back to national festivals that took place in Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland in the second half of the 19th century.
In 1939, an international gymnastics display, with 7,399 participants from twelve countries took place in Stockholm to commemorate the centenary of the death of Per Henrik Ling who was the founder of Ling gymnastics, a practice of gymnastic free exercises without apparatus. The ‘Lingiad’, as it was known, was a success and described by contemporaries as a triumph for gymnastics. This was one of the motivators that spurred the idea of holding an official international gymnastics festival and in 1949 a man named J.H.F. Sommer proposed the idea to the FIG.
Four years later, Gymnaestrada was born.
Gymnastics in Austria
Gymnastics for All has a long tradition in Austria, and it is one of the most popular disciplines. There are currently 450 registered clubs in Austria with around 100,000 gymnasts, many of which are in the far West of Austria and in the region of Voralberg where the festival will be taking place.
When the event was last hosted in Dornbirn in 2007 many from the area were unaware of the festival and its popularity. Despite this it became a huge success with over 21,000 participants from 56 countries attending the festival, with over 8000 volunteers helping to support it to make it one of the highlights of the year.
The opening and closing ceremonies in the Birkenwiese Stadium had an audience of 30,000 each and the teams can expect another ceremonious welcome this time around.
This year’s Gymnaestrada will welcome approximately 23,000 participants which will include 3,037 gymnasts from Switzerland – the nation with the biggest contingent – and two from Tonga, the country sending the smallest delegation. Tonga is one of 12 countries involved for the first time together with Armenia, Barbados, Benin, Colombia, Fiji, Iran, Malawi, Malta, Mozambique, Nepal and Paraguay.
At the last Gymnaestrada, Great Britain sent a team of 357 gymnasts and this figure has now doubled.
Most countries in attendance will have teams made up of adults however there is a great range of ages in the British contingency with members as young as 6 and some in their 60s.
The British team also represents a range of abilities with impaired participants from Spartac Gymnastics Club, Goole Gymnastics Club and the National Disability Display Team also taking part in the festival.
- Gymnaestrada will take place across 11 venues in the Rhine Valley where Dornbirn is located.
- 16 villages in Dornbirn will be accommodating the teams from around the world.
- Over the week there will be 13 hours of large group performances.
- More than 100,000 meals will be prepared for Gymnaestrada delegates.
If you would like to find out more about Gymnaestrada visit their website.