Even though Wheel Gymnastics is not part of the Olympic program, it remains a popular discipline, especially in Germany. Otto Feick, a German gymnast and creative thinker, invented the wheel for gymnasts in 1925 and went on to patent it as "Rhönrad." Feick was inspired by his childhood, reminiscing about his grandfather and how he would attach sticks between two hoops so that he could roll down a hill. The design of the wheel consists of two circles that are connected by six rods. Two are simple tubes, two have a handle, and two have a footrest. The diameter of the wheel depends on the length of the gymnast. This is very important as the gymnast must be able to be fully stretched and hold on to the grips of the wheel.
After its invention and patent, the wheel (also known as Gym Wheel) quickly became a popular activity attracting both athletes and adventurers alike. Years later it led to the invention of the Wheel of Death (1970) and the Cyr Wheel (1996)—both mainly used in the contemporary circus and by acrobats and enthusiasts all over the world. There are a few differences between these last two apparatuses and the original Rhönrad. The first one is a very large rotating wheel of a lightweight structure with linked steps at either end. These allow performers to stand and run around on either the inside or the outside of the hoops, which causes the wheel to rotate. The latter is a monowheel and one of the favorite disciplines in acrobatic circus routines. It consists of a single large ring made of aluminum or steel with a diameter approximately 10 to 15 cm taller than the performer, who stands and holds on to the inside of the ring, making it roll and spin gyroscopically while performing acrobatic moves.
The two wheels that went on to evolve as official sports are the Cyr Wheel and the Gym Wheel. Both were adopted and institutionalized by the International Rhoenradturnen Verband (known as the IRV, International Wheel Gymnastics Federation). Based in Switzerland, this is the representative body for the sport of wheel gymnastics. The IRV oversees organizing World Championships, Team World Cups, and is responsible for the Code of Points (regulations) adopted in competitions worldwide.
Currently, there are three competitive disciplines within regular wheel gymnastics practiced by men and women athletes: straight-line, spiral and vault. Of course, there is also the Cyr Wheel, which was added to the IRV’s competitive program in 2013. The goal of the IRV is to support and help develop gymnasts, coaches, judges and the sport around the world. The IRV has an Executive Board and Technical Commission, which are comprised of nine representatives from different countries. These members work voluntarily to advance and improve the federation and wheel gymnastics in order to grow the sport globally.