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How the Cyr Wheel Works

Wheel Gymnastics
A member of a Berlin wheel gymnastics team performs on the German wheel or Rhönrad in Berlin in 2013.
A member of a Berlin wheel gymnastics team performs on the German wheel or Rhönrad in Berlin in 2013.

Remember the German wheel, the two-ringed "hamster wheel" also known as the Rhönrad? It turns out that the playful athletic device first built by Otto Feick in the 1920s still has an ardent following. Starting as early as 1960, serious German wheel practitioners have been competing in championships of so-called "wheel gymnastics" [source: Inertie].

The International Wheel Gymnastics Federation (IRV) was founded in 1995 to continue the German tradition of competitive wheeled acrobatics. For the German Wheel, there are three competitive gymnastic disciplines [source: IRV]:

  • In straight line competition, the gymnasts roll their wheels back and forth along a straight line while executing complicated inversions and rolls
  • In the spiral competition, the athletes cause the wheel to spin and wobble like a large coin
  • For the vault competition, gymnasts stand atop their wheels and execute high-flying flips and twists before sticking the landing

IRV world championships are held every two years. For the 2011 event in Arnsberg, Germany, the Cyr wheel was included as a demonstration sport. Instead of having each competitor do a traditional choreographed routine, two Cyr Wheel athletes were pitted head-to-head in a Cyr Wheel "battle" [source: Inertie].

The 2013 Wheel Gymnastics World Championships in Chicago marked the first time that the Cyr Wheel was included as an official competitive discipline along with its own "Code of Points" [source: IRV]. A panel of judges rates the competitors on both a technical program (without music) and a free program (with music). The Cyr Wheel gymnasts are required to perform certain maneuvers to achieve maximum difficulty, and are judged on execution, difficulty, and in the case of the free program, artistic impression [source: IRV]. The rules were updated and expanded for the June 2015 championships in Ligano, Italy [source: IRV].

Does wheel gymnastics sound like fun? There are more than 500 wheel sports clubs worldwide, including nearly a dozen in the United States. Contact the IRV member association in your country to learn about opportunities to try both the German Wheel and Cyr Wheel. Or you could always run off and join the circus.