Posts Tagged ‘Rhön’

Gym Wheel? What’s that??

It’s also called Rhönrad (Rhoenrad), Wheel Gymnastics or German Wheel. Still no thought of? Okay. So I will give you an discribtion and maybe a bit more than that.

Wheel gymnastics was invented in my hometown in 1925 by a German railway worker named Otto Feick. He built several different designs of the wheel, but only one has prevailed. This photo shows a garage in Schönau a.d. Brend (GERMANY, Bavaria) from 1928 in which gymnastic wheels were manufactured.


In the time, when the Ruhrgebiet was occupied, and the occupying power took many people into custody, Otto Feick was sent to prison as well. In his cell, he remembered an event in his childhood, when he took two iron hoops and connected them in his father’s workshop. He then rolled downhill inside this wheel and arrived having bruises all over his body. In the solitude of the prison, he decided to develop further this child idea and to manufacture a gymnastic gadget. After having left prison, he went to the village, where his wife lived – Schönau an der Brend. There he opened a workshop for metal processing. Besides the daily work, he developed the gymnastic wheel in various attempts in 1924/25. For the sake of his new home, the low mountain range “Rhön” (Rhoen), Otto Feick called his invention “Rhönrad” instead of “Feick-Rad”. The patent was issued on the 8th of November 1925 and received the number 442057. In the following time, the “Rhönrad” was patented in 30 countries. But for the time being just the youth of Schönau had fun with the wheel.

The most difficult task for Otto Feick was to introduce the wheel in the conservative sports community of that time. He managed to bring together some gymnasts of the gymnastic club of Würzburg to form a show group, which started to attract publicity with their presentations. In 1927, Otto Feick was invited to England to present the “Rhönrad” on some great stages of London and in front of the British Air Force. In 1928, he presented the wheel in France and then continued his trip with the show group through many European countries. The first voyage to the United States was done in 1929, where the gym wheel almost became a sensation. The first international competition took place in Bad Kissingen (Germany, Bavaria) and was fundamental for future competitions of that kind. Winners of that competition were Josef Brand from Bad Neustadt in the men’s class and Fini Weimer from Würzburg in the women’s class. In the same year, the first German gymnastic wheel games were conducted, and 50 gymnasts came from Würzburg alone. For the tenth anniversary of the wheel the group performed an outstanding show in the winter garden in Berlin. The peak of this development was the participation of 120 gymnasts at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games 1936 in Munich. From then on, other countries became more and more interested in this new sport. However, in the years of the Second World War all sport activities were restricted and finally forbidden.

When Germany slowly came back to life after the war, some old gym-wheel friends came together again to repair the broken wheels and to bring back to life their beloved sport. The first centres developed again in Berlin and Bavaria like in former times. Due to their work, the wheel was soon accepted in the regional gymnastic associations, and in 1959 the wheel was admitted to the German Gymnastic Association (DTB). The first German Championships took place in 1960 in Hannover. Otto Feick could not see this recognition of his sport anymore. He died on the 17th of October 1959 in Schönau an der Brend, where he was buried. In 1975, for the 50th anniversary of the “Rhönrad”, a nice monument was built in the centre of Schönau in honour of Otto Feick.

At the beginning of the 80’s, the gym wheel experienced a great boom. The Gymnastradas 1982 in Zurich (Switzerland) and 1986 in Herning (Denmark) created the basis for international progress. The gym wheel show group of the German gymnastic association (DTB – Deutscher Turner-Bund) caused sensation with very modern choreographies, and soon the wheel found its way to Israel, Japan and many European countries. In 1990, it was possible to carry out the first European-Cup in Taunusstein (Germany). In 1992, the first European Championships took place in Switzerland. After the foundation of the international gym wheel federation (IRV- Internationaler Rhönradturn Verband) in 1994 in Switzerland, the first World championships were carried out in Den Helder (Netherlands). Besides Japan, Israel, England, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland, the German gymnasts are still the forerunners of the sport. For the world championships 1997 in Antwerp (Belgium), it was required from the gymnasts for the first time to do their free straight-line exercise with music. Since 1998, gymnasts in Germany use music for their competition-exercises in straight-line as well. For that, the judges evaluate the technique, the difficulty and the interpretation of the music. Since the fourth world championships in 2001 in Liestal (Switzerland), vault is an official discipline for women as well. This completed a big step in the development of the gym wheel, and it remains our hope for an increasing public interest.

Various wheels

To exhaust all possibilities Feick and his collegue constructed four different types of wheels:
The Universal Wheel is the most popular wheel. It is constructed out of two steel hops that are connected with 6 horizontal bars at a distance of 50cm.
The Excelsior Wheel resembles the universal wheel, just that the distance between the hoops is one third of the distance of the universal wheel. It was used for fast spirals.
The Globe Wheel consisted of two crosswise-connected universal wheels. In this wheel about five gymnasts could roll at the same time in all directions.
The Dreia Wheel is a combination of the universal wheel with a single crosswise hoop, similar to the globe wheel. Three persons could use it at a time.
The abstractions of the universal wheel did not prove worthwhile, and today only the universal wheel is used.

Competition Disciplines


The wheel is rolling on two hoops in a straight line. The gymnast is inside the wheel and controls its movement by shifting the centre of gravity. The movements are divided into central and decentral elements. Doing central elements the gymnast’s position is in the centre of the wheel. Doing decentral elements the gymnast is positioned at the edge of the wheel, what makes the movement faster. In straight line with music the gymnast tries to interpret the music with his own movements. This discipline requires most creativity. For this purpose the classical rules for posture are loosened. The space that can be used is 3 x 23 metres.


The wheel is moving on one hoop in a circle. The gymnast is inside the wheel and guides it. There is a big spiral where the wheel has an angle of inclination bigger than 60° to the floor, and a small spiral with an angle of inclination smaller than 30°. Both forms are required in a competition exercise. The space that can be used is 13x13m.


In this discipline the gymnast is starting the movement of the wheel from the outside. He pushes the wheel away, then runs after it and jumps on the top. From there he makes figures like a summersault on a mat.


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