Two sports in this year’s Games are open only to one gender—synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics, which were both incorporated into the Olympics in 1984 as exclusively for women. While they both demand great strength and agility, these disciplines are very much about performance and aesthetics in addition to "pure" athleticism. Perhaps because of this, both are far less appreciated in the U.S. than other Olympic sports and are frequently mocked in our pop culture; the two examples that spring to mind are the 1984 Saturday Night Live skit with Harry Shearer and Martin Short as a spectacularly untalented underwater duo (complete with inflatable safety vest) and Will Ferrell’s ribbon dance in the 2003 movie Old School.
The synchronized swimming competition is this week, and on Tuesday the Russians referred to by the New York Times as "sinister dolls" (Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina) won the gold for the duet. Today and tomorrow the eight-person teams compete, with the Russians again heavily favored; they have won the gold in both duet and team in the last three Games. The U.S. placed a disappointing 11th in the duet competition and is not participating in the team competition. Synchronized swimming has had its own number since DDC 21, 797.217.
Today marks the beginning of the rhythmic gymnastics competition, which is separate from its more popular cousin, artistic gymnastics. The most visible difference between the two is that the women performing rhythmic gymnastics incorporate apparatus into their routines: a hoop, a ball, clubs, or a ribbon. Originating competitively in the U.S.S.R., this sport is traditionally dominated by eastern European countries. Just one rhythmic gymnast will represent the U.S. at the London Games, Maryland native Julie Zetlin. She has roots in the eastern European tradition, with a Russian coach and a mother who was a Hungarian national champion in rhythmic gymnastics. This video shows Julie performing at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in France last year.
Yesterday Michael mentioned the recent revision of the gymnastics section. In DDC 22, the number was 796.44 for Sports gymnastics, "Including rhythmic gymnastics, use of horizontal and parallel bars, vaulting." With DDC 23 gymnastics has been expanded; now the heading for 796.44 is simply Gymnastics with the addition of more specific numbers for Artistic gymnastics (796.442) and Rhythmic gymnastics (796.443).