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Thanks to hours of training, gymnasts seem to effortlessly fly through the air at impossible heights. However, a psychological condition, known as "the twisties," can sidetrack even the most experienced gymnast. The phenomenon, attributed to stress, disorients the athletes and causes them to lose awareness while they are in the middle of a routine. It can lead to serious injury.
For Simone Biles, the twisties emerged while competing in the vault at the Tokyo 2020 artistic gymnastics team finals on July 27, 2021. The powerful gymnast had planned on performing an Amanar, a challenging routine that requires two-and-a-half twists in the air. Instead, she completed only one-and-a-half twists and stumbled out of her landing.
Shortly after, Team USA announced that Biles had decided to withdraw from the competition. It was later revealed that she had suffered from the twisties. Biles explained her condition in an Instagram post. “Literally can not tell up from down," she said. "It’s the craziest feeling ever. Not having an inch of control over your body.”
The Olympian revealed that she had previously suffered from the twisties on the floor and vault. However, this time around, it was impacting all of her routines. "It's never transferred to bars & beam before for me. It strictly likes floor and vault. Go figure, the scariest two," she said. "But this time, it's on literally every event."
Over the next week, Biles withdrew from five of the six finals she had spent four years training to compete in. On August 3, 2021, she felt strong enough to compete in her last individual event — the balance beam. Her flawless routine of back handspring flips and split leaps earned her a bronze medal. "It means more than all the golds because I've been through so much the last five years and the last week while I've even been here; it was just... it was very emotional," Biles said after her routine.
While battling her emotional turmoil, Biles remained a fierce cheerleader for her teammates. They did not disappoint. After winning a silver medal in the artistic gymnastics team final, they all went on to medal in their respective individual events. Jade Carey took home the gold in the individual floor exercise, while Suni Lee placed first in the gymnastics all-around event. First-time Olympian MyKayla Skinner, who substituted for Biles in the vault, received a silver medal.
Biles’ decision to put her mental health first is being applauded by people worldwide. Her willingness to openly talk about the subject is bringing global attention to the importance of focusing on mental well-being.
“At the end of the day, we're not just athletes or entertainment,” Biles said. “We're human, too, and we have real emotions, and sometimes people don't realize that we have things going on behind the scenes that affect us whenever we go out and compete.”
Resources: CNN.com, CBSnews.com,Olympics.com