It came as a shock when Simone Biles dropped out of the Olympic gymnastics team all-around competition on Tuesday. And while she didn’t owe anyone an explanation, under increased scrutiny, Biles has been sharing more and more about why she made the decision. First, USA Gymnastics broadly said it was due to a medical issue, and then Biles clarified that it was due to her mental health specifically. But now, she’s further explained that it was because she was experiencing “the twisties.”
The term “twisties” is common in the gymnastics world, though to an outsider, it doesn’t mean much. But it was this feeling that made Biles realize she needed to leave the competition, particularly because she was experiencing the twisties in a way she never had before. Read on to find out why Biles knew she had to drop out and what the twisties are.
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Simone Biles exited the team all-around and later the individual all-around after getting lost in the air.
On Tuesday, during the team all-around competition, Biles participated in the first round, the vault, but did not execute her planned skills properly. She was supposed to do a two-and-a-half twist in the air, but only did a one-and-a-half twist after getting lost in the air. She then dropped out of the competition and her teammates continued on without her, ultimately winning the silver medal. After the team competition, Biles told reporters (via CNN), “Whenever you get in a high stress situation, you kind of freak out. I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.” She also explained that she thought if she continued on, then she’d be risking her team medaling at all.
Biles went on to also sit out of the individual all-around on Thursday and shortly thereafter, she took to Instagram to clarify that it wasn’t just a lot of pressure from the world watching her that made Biles realize she had to drop out—she was also suffering from the twisties. That’s when a gymnast loses awareness of where they are while in the air, which means they’re unable to execute skills or land properly.
“I didn’t have a bad performance and quit. I’ve had plenty of bad performances throughout my career and finished the competition,” she wrote on her Instagram Stories on Friday. “I simply got so lost, my safety was at risk as well as the team medal.”
Other Olympic gymnasts have explained how dangerous the twisties are.
Shortly after Biles withdrew from the team all-around, her former Olympic teammate Aly Raisman spoke with Today about what Biles could be facing. “The vault that she did was a one-and-a-half twist instead of a two-and-a-half twist,” Raisman told Today on Tuesday, before Biles publicly mentioned experiencing the twisties. “I don’t know if she got lost in the air. … But if she did get lost in the air, I do want to say that that is actually very common, because she’s doing such difficult skills and she can twist so much more than the average person.”
The Olympics 2004 individual all-around gold medalist Carly Patterson further talked about the twisties with People. “You basically start losing that air awareness,” she said. “It is very, very scary, especially when you’re doing the difficult kind of skills that Simone is doing. [You] have no clue when you’re going to hit the ground and how you’re going to hit the ground.”
On her Instagram Stores on Friday, Biles added: “I have no idea how I landed on my feet on that vault because if you look at the pictures and my eyes, you can see how confused I am as to where I am in the air. Thankfully, I landed safe enough.”
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The scariest part of all for Biles was that she had the twisties on all apparatuses before.
On Friday, Biles answered questions from followers about the twisties on her Instagram Stories. She said the twisties started after the preliminary event, and that while she has had them before, it hasn’t been like this.
Biles said she typically has gotten the twisties on the floor and vault, “the scariest 2” events. “But this time it’s literally every event,” she added. “It’s never transferred to bars & beam before for me.”
Biles said that in the past, the twisties lasted two or more weeks for her, but added there’s “no telling/time frame” for when this bout will end. “[It’s] something you have to take literally day by day, turn by turn,” she explained.
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As of Friday, Biles was still experiencing the twisties, but she could return for the individual event competitions.
On Instagram on Friday, Biles said that she was still experiencing the twisties, and explained that she “literally can not tell up from down.” She added: “It’s the craziest feeling ever. Not having an inch of control over your body. 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 said she’s been able to practice at a separate facility that has soft surfaces—unlike the hard competition ones—that help keep her safe during potentially dangerous landings. The 24-year-old gymnast also said she’s heard the feeling “could be trigged by stress … but I’m also not sure how true that is.”
There is, however, a chance Biles could still compete. She qualified for all four individual event competitions—vault, floor exercise, balance beam, and uneven bars—but it’s unclear for now whether she will be able to compete when those events take place, beginning August 1.
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