The scariest part is when she can't tell up from down.
The 2021 Olympics have been surprising viewers nonstop. Not only are the games scrutinized because of COVID-related issues — Japan’s vaccination rate is incredibly low, and numerous athletes have tested positive — but some stars have faced unexpected setbacks. For instance, tennis pro Naomi Osaka was unable to win an Olympic medal after facing elimination in the third-round match. Then, Simone Biles withdrew from the individual, all-around final to prioritize her “health and well-being.” But Simone Biles’ comments about “the twisties” at the Olympics explain *so* much about gymnastics.
Fact: Biles is still the G.O.A.T., and despite her decision to take a step back from the Olympics competition, her journey to Tokyo was still legendary. Thanks to Team USA Gymnastics earning silver at the team all-around, she walked away with her sixth Olympics medal. After all, just competing in the Olympics during these wildly stressful times is a feat in and of itself.
But, once Biles got super transparent about why she withdrew from the match, it was impossible to not put even more respect on her name. On July 27, during the competition’s first rotation, she was visibly nervous and struggled with her vault routine, which she usually kills. Commentators and those at home quickly realized how frazzled she was even after struggling with the move. Shortly after, the athlete announced she’d be withdrawing from the individual all-around, citing her desire to focus on her mental health.
“I have to put my pride aside,” she told reporters on July 27. “I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being.”
Then, speaking with the New York Times, she reiterated how she prioritizes mental health over everything — even outside expectations. “At the end of the day, we’re human, too, so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do,” she said. “With the year that it’s been, I’m really not surprised how it played out.”
It’s safe to say Biles put herself first, which isn’t always easy to do, especially for a sports superstar. But if you were rooting for the 24-year-old Olympian, you probably wondered what, exactly, threw Biles off during competition. Did something happen prior to the match? Was she just psyched out?
As it turns out, Biles was dealing with a case of “the twisties,” a scary gymnastics phenomenon in which athletes lose their sense of space midair. Biles’ former coach, Aimee Boorman, could tell the gymnast was struggling with the hurdle while competing. Speaking with Today, Boorman explained that the twisties are somewhat like a mental block athletes experience as a result of the stress of competition. “Every once in a while [when I coached her], she would form this block and it usually had nothing to do with the gymnastics itself, it had to do with other things going on in her, in her universe," Boorman said.
To someone who doesn’t know much about gymnastics, the twisties can sound like an outlandish concept. So, when Biles hopped on IG stories that same day to host a Q&A session about the phenomenon, it provided a *major* learning experience.
What are the twisties?
As NBC News explained, the twisties are when gymnasts perform a move and lose awareness of their sense of space and dimension midair, making it not only scary, but legitimately unsafe to land. On IG, Biles’ reflected on her past with the hurdle. “I have experienced them before,” she wrote. “They’re not fun to deal with. It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind and body in sync. 10/10 do not recommend. [They] could be triggered by stress I hear but I’m also not sure how true that is.”
If the twisties were caused by stressful situations, that wouldn’t be totally surprising. All eyes have been on Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, since she conquered the Rio Games back in 2016.
Regardless of why they happen, the twisties are a big deal, both mentally and physically. “[A gymnast] literally cannot tell up from down [when having the twisties],” Biles wrote. “It’s the craziest feeling ever... not having an inch of control over your body.” She continued, “What’s even scarier is since I have no idea where I am in the air, I also have NO idea how I’m going to land. Or what I’m going to land on... head, hands, feet back...”
Biles added that while she experiences the twisties most when she’s doing moves that literally require twists, she still feels “off sync” when performing non-twisting flips. “[It’s the] strangest and weirdest thing as well as feeling,” she said. “Sometimes I can’t even fathom twisting. I seriously cannot comprehend how to twist.”
How long do the twisties last?
Unfortunately, the twisties don’t just vanish after one event, and how long they last depends on each athlete. Biles said that for her, “it varies with time.”
“Typically, for me, it’s usually two or more weeks,” she said. “[There’s] honestly no telling [or] time frame... [it’s] something you have to take literally day by day, turn by turn.”
On July 29, two days after she withdrew, Biles said she “unfortunately” still experienced them.
Will Simone Biles be able to compete again despite the twisties?
Good news: Biles said that despite her history with the twisties, she will still be able to compete in the future, particularly at her upcoming Gold Over America Tour in September. Her “simple” fix, she said, is to temporarily stop performing moves that require twists.
Closing out her Q&A session on Instagram, Biles made a super important point: She did *not* quit, and her decision to withdraw from the event was anything but a “bad performance.” Instead, it was a good call for both her and her team. “I simply got so lost [that] my safety was at risk, as well as a team medal,” she wrote. “The girls stepped up and killed the rest of the competition and won silver. QUEENS!!!!”
Queens, indeed. Biles was so brave to give it her all, even in her off-game. And her decision to take a step back was even more courageous. We love to see it!
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