I agree, I think the 'artistic' bits were a concession to the fundamental distrust that people seemed to have about women participating in sports.
True. "People" includes women as well, of course. I've read another article lamenting the decline of "artistry" in gymnastics and like the Slate piece it was written by a woman. Figure skating and women's gymnastics attract a predominantly female audience and they are both sports which tend to reflect traditional expectations regarding how women should look and move. (They're also sports in which the women's events are the marquee events - unusual. Probably not a coincidence.)