The balance beam is an artistic gymnastics apparatus, as well as the event performed using the apparatus. Both the apparatus and the event are sometimes simply referred to as "beam". The English abbreviation for the event in gymnastics scoring is BB. The beam is a small, thin beam which is typically raised from the floor on a leg or stand at both ends. The balance beam is only performed by female gymnasts. Beams are usually made of leather like material.
Balance beams used in international gymnastics competitions must conform to the guidelines and specifications set forth by the International Gymnastics Federation Apparatus Norms brochure. Several companies manufacture and sell beams, including AAI (USA), Jannsen and Fritsen (Europe) and Acromat (Australia). Most gymnastics schools purchase and use balance beams that meet the FIG's standards, but some may also use beams with carpeted surfaces for practice situations. While learning new skills, gymnasts often work on low beams that have the same dimensions and surface of regulation apparatus, but are set a very short distance from the ground. They may also work on practice beams, mini beams, road beams, or even lines on a mat.
Originally, the beam surface was plain polished wood. In earlier years, some gymnasts competed on a beam made of basketball-like material. However, this type of beam was eventually banned due to its extreme slipperiness. Since the 1980s, beams have been covered in leather or suede. In addition, they are now also sprung to accommodate the stress of high-difficulty tumbling and dance skills.
Measurements of the apparatus are published by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) in the Apparatus Norms brochure.
- Height: 124 centimetres (4.07 ft)
- Length: 500 centimetres (16 ft)
- Width: 10 centimetres (3.9 in)
In the early days of women's artistic gymnastics, beam was based more in dance than in tumbling. Routines even at the elite level were composed with combinations of leaps, dance poses, handstands, rolls and walkovers. In the 1960s, the most difficult acrobatic skill performed by the average Olympic gymnast was a back handspring.
Balance beam difficulty began to increase dramatically in the 1970s. Olga Korbut and Nadia Comăneci pioneered advanced tumbling combinations and aerial skills on beam; other athletes and coaches began to follow suit. The change was also facilitated by the transition from wooden beams to safer, less slippery models with suede-covered surfaces. By the mid-1980s, top gymnasts routinely performed flight series and multiple aerial elements on beam.
Today, balance beam routines still consist of a mixture of acrobatic skills, dance elements, leaps and poses, but with significantly greater difficulty. It is also an individual medal competition in the Olympics.
International level routines 
For detailed information on score tabulation, please see the Code of Points article.
A beam routine must consist of:
- A connection of two dance elements, one a leap, jump, or hop with legs in 180 degree split
- A full turn on one foot
- One series of two acrobatic skills
- Acrobatic elements in different directions (forward/sideward and backward)
- A dismount
Scoring and rules 
Several aspects of the performance determine the gymnast's final mark. All elements in the routine, as well as all errors, are noted by the judges.
Deductions are taken for all errors made while on the beam, including lapses in control, balance checks (i.e., wobbling or stumbling to maintain balance), poor technique and execution, and failure to fulfill the required Code of Points elements. Falls automatically incur a deduction of 1.00.
Apparatus specific rules 
The gymnast may compete barefoot or wear special beam shoes if she so chooses. She may also chalk her hands and/or feet for added stability on the apparatus. Small markings may also be placed on the beam.
Once the exercise has started, the gymnast's coach may not spot her or interfere in any way. The only time the gymnast may be accompanied on the podium is in the case of a mount involving a springboard. In this instance, the coach may quickly step in to remove the springboard from the area.
In the event of a fall, once the athlete is on their feet they have 30 seconds to remount the beam and continue the routine. If she does not return to the beam within this time limit, she is not permitted to continue.
Under FIG rules, the maximum allowed time for a balance beam routine is 1:30 minutes. The routine is timed on the scoreboard timer, which is visible to both the gymnast and judges. In addition, a warning tone or bell is sounded 1:20 into the exercise. If the gymnast has not left the beam by 1:30, another bell is sounded, and a score deduction is incurred which is .1.
The balance beam is one of the woman's competitive events in gymnastics. It all started with a Johan Christoph GutsMuths' "horizontal laying, totally round pine tree trunk..." to balance on. It was about a length of 64 feet. It was later called "Schweben" which means floating. When the German female gymnasts competed in 1921, there was gymnastics on high bar, parallel bars and vault, but no gymnastics on beam. There was no change until 1934. In 1934 the balance beam was part of the world championships in Budapest for the first time. That year the beam was only 8 cm wide. Today, the beam is a lot safer. It is between two different pairs of strong polls on bolts of iron that can be put high or low. Jahn did not include the great importance to perfect stability of the beam just yet. The routines include a number of different acrobatic elements. The beam was then widened from 8 to 10 cm. The sides of the beam were rounded in order for the middle of the beam to be 13 cm in diameter. Now, the beam is very stable. The beam had to be adjustable. It had to be between 0.80 and 1.20 m, in distances of 50 mm. This is still today. It was then focused to make better stability and transportability. It was also the interest of safety to have enough mats on the free space beneath the beam. It took seven years to get an official agreement to add a padded beam. As the somersaults and free handspring on the beam increased and became more difficult, the improvements of the beam had to follow. The hard wood was eventually replaced by an elastic overlay that was made of foam rubber. This foam rubber was 6 mm. In 1974 the safety became more precise. The ends of the beam became padded and it focused on preventing injuries. Nowadays, the dimensions of a regular size balance beam are safer than ever.
- "History of Balance Beam". Retrieved 2009-10-04.
- "Apparatus Norms" (PDF). FIG. p. II/50. Retrieved 2009-10-04.
- "Apparatus Norms" (PDF). FIG. p. II/51. Retrieved 2009-10-04.
- "WAG Code of Points 2009-2012" (PDF). FIG. p. 26. Retrieved 2009-10-02.[dead link]
- "WAG Code of Points 2009-2012" (PDF). FIG. p. 15. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- "WAG Code of Points 2009-2012" (PDF). FIG. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-10-04.
- "WAG Code of Points 2009-2012" (PDF). FIG. p. 3. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Balance beam|
- Apparatus description at the FIG website
- History of the balance beam (in German and English)
- US Gym Net's glossary of beam skills