In 1925, a German locksmith and union railway worker named Otto Feick, invented and built the very first Rhönrad. Also known as the German Wheel, the Rhönrad was so named because Otto and his family lived in the Rhön region of Germany. Shortly thereafter, Otto and his students travelled all over Europe and to the USA to promote the sport. In the 1936 Olympics, over 120 wheel gymnasts performed during the opening ceremonies. After WWII, there was increased popularity of the sport in Europe and abroad. By the mid-nineties, the Internationaler Rhönradturn-Verband (IRV) was formed to oversee all international competitions and training camps. Currently, there are 10 member countries of the IRV and approximately 30 nations participating in the sport worldwide.
Despite having a presence in the United States for over 80 years, wheel was mostly seen on a limited basis, primarily in circuses and other similar shows. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, however, a group of American athletes, led by Evan Brown, began to elevate the presence and aptitude of the sport in the USA by attending international training camps and competing in the World Championships. From these experiences and help from the IRV, the foundation for the USA Wheel Gymnastics Federation (USAWGF) was formed. In the mid-2000’s, Wolfgang Bientzle, the most decorated wheel gymnast of all time, moved to Chicago and immediately grew the sport. He put together classes, workshops, and rapidly gathered a following of talented athletes of all skills and ages that he continues to teach on a weekly basis.
By 2013, changes started to take place in the IRV, resulting in a few milestones for wheel gymnastics. Firstly, this was when Cyr wheel was added to the competitive program for the very first time. 2013 also marked the first time the Championships had ever been held outside of Europe, bringing wheelers from around the globe to compete on American soil in Chicago, Illinois.
In the summer of 2015, the World Championships were held in Lignano, Italy. There, USA Wheel Gymnastics won the bid for the second time, with a 1:17 vote to host the 2016 Championships in Cincinnati, Ohio. USAWGF was proud to have the Wheel World Championships in America again, especially because the competition usually occurs every other year. These back-to-back Championships of 2015 and 2016 marks another first in IRV history, and a sign that wheel gymnastics in the US is surely growing steadily.
Fast forward a few years, and we're proud to announce that USAWG will be the host of the 2020 Wheel Gynastics World Championships -- the third time in a decade that the competition has happened on American soil. Click here to see a brief video of the wheel in action!