Tokyo Olympics 2020: Simone Biles Says She Had the ‘Twisties’: What Is It?

Mind It
2 min read
Tokyo Olympics 2020: Simone Biles Says She Had the ‘Twisties’: What Is It?

Simone Biles, in an unexpected, yet inspiring move, pulled out of the women's team finals at the Tokyo Olympics, on Tuesday, citing mental health reasons.

"They saw it a little bit in practice. Having a little bit of the twisties," she said at a press conference, later that day.

The word hit a chord with gymnasts who attested to just how dangerous it could be.

Something was off, this was clear when the world's most decorated gymnast stumbled her way through the Amanar–a dangerous skill, that Biles almost never misses.

"The fact that she landed while getting lost in the air is incredible first of all," her teammate Laurie Hernandez said to Peacock TV's Tokyo LIVE.

"Second of all, this is not something that we’ve seen from her. It could be something that’s happening during practice," she added.


What Are the Twisties?

Gymnasts explain the twisties as a mental block.

"It's like a none-serious stroke, your brain and body disconnect," explained one gymnast from the US.

Simply put, the 'twisties' is comparable to being 'off your game', but it's also so much worse.

Gymnastics is an inherently dangerous sport that is just as psychologically strenuous as it is physically demanding.

In other sports like cricket or basketball when a player's head is not in the game, it may mean missed scores or catches.

In gymnastics, however, being 'off your game' or having the 'twisities' can mean grave injury or even fatality.

When a gymnast has the twisties, they temporarily lose their spatial sense and proprioception–the sense of self-movement and position–which can be very dangerous when one is flying through the air with no control of their body.

‘Like Skydiving With No Parachute'

"Imagine skydiving, and your parachute won't open," Christina Myers, Gymnastics coach in Birmingham, Alabama US, told BBC.

"Your body starts adding extra twists and flips to the skill you're supposed to be doing, and it can affect even the skills that feel as routine as walking to an elite gymnast..."
Christina Myers, Gymnastics coach in Birmingham, Alabama US, to BBC

It isn't just the more complex manoeuvres, the twisties can also throw a gymnast off with ones they've done repeatedly for years with ease.

"Because the twisties are mainly psychological, the harder you try to push through, the harder the twisties push back," she added.

With the move to pull out, Biles was not only preserving her mental health, Biles was also preserving her physical wellbeing.

The Mental Health Conversation in Sports

Her decision to pull out of the two team events and subsequently the all-round finals on Thursday, 30 July, sparked heated discussions.

While some were more critical of her move, many lauded her for having the courage to step back and priorities her wellbeing, others.

What has been especially heartening is the backing she has received from gymnast communities?

Speaking to FIT for a previous article, sports psychologist Divya Jain said, "We also have to understand that they are human beings. These are not machines or robots that we expect to perform at breakneck every single time."

(Written with inputs from the Guardian and BBC.)

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