Gymnastics blends strength with balance and flexibility – much like the materials used to manufacture the men’s parallel and women’s uneven bars.
When manufacturers first began adding fiberglass to the bars in the 1970s, it was to eliminate bar breakage. In 1952, when the uneven bars were first introduced at the Helsinki Olympics, there were 39 bar breaks. Today, composites add not only strength but also bounce to the bars. Marcello de Carvalho, international sales manager of Gymnova, one of the official suppliers of gymnastics equipment for the 2016 Olympics, notes that his company uses increased amounts of carbon fiber to add “more dynamism to the handrails.”
As athletes move from one bar to the other, demonstrating a series of grip changes and releases, the competitors often rely on a blend of CFRP and GFRP to boost their release time. For example, the handrails of Gymnova’s Rio brand asymmetric bars use a blend of pultruded CFRP and GFRP encased in wood veneer to boost athletes’ response times. Spieth, another Olympic bar supplier, notes that its parallel bars use fiberglass inserts within a plywood rail to create the resilience and elasticity necessary to support the gymnasts’ swings.