What Are the ‘Twisties’? Simone Biles Experienced a Dangerous Issue Before Olympics Withdraw

Simone Biles narrowly escaped getting seriously hurt during her Tokyo Olympics vault rotation on Tuesday, July 27, due to a case of the “twisties.” While most viewers don’t know what that means, to gymnasts, it is a scary experience that many have dealt with.

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So, what are the twisties? The term describes a moment in which the athlete loses control of their body as they spin through the air doing some sort of twist motion. In some cases, the gymnast does an unplanned twist, whereas in Biles’ case, she stopped midway through her twist, slipping on her landing.

Instead of performing a two and a half twisting vault as part of the team competition on Tuesday, Biles’ mind stalled midair and she ending up completing one and a half twists. When she experienced the twisties, the 24-year-old Ohio native’s mind and body essentially disconnected while twisting, meaning she wasn’t fully aware of how far away from the ground her body was. The issue could have led to her pulling a muscle, breaking something or worse.

What Are the ‘Twisties’? How Simon Biles Avoided Injury With Olympics Withdraw
Simon Biles. Kohei Maruyama/AFLO/Shutterstock

“When you actually take a look at what happened on that vault, she got lost,” gold medalist and NBC Sports correspondent Nastia Liukin said on NBC’s telecast after Tuesday’s competition. “Any gymnast knows [what happened], we call it the ‘twisties.’ She basically was supposed to do a whole other rotation and got completely lost in the air.”

The five-time Olympic medalist, 31, continued: “It’s a mental kind of error that every gymnast goes through. It does happen often. The most dangerous part is getting lost on a skill like that, and pretty much on every event she does. The level of difficulty that she competes is so high. If you’re not 100 percent sure of yourself and where you are in the air it can be very dangerous.”

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Biles also addressed her mental and physical health on Tuesday after Team USA won the silver medal in the team competition following her decision to withdraw from the rest of the day’s events.

“After that vault, I was like: ‘I’m not in the right headspace, I’m not going to lose a medal for this country and for these girls’ because they worked way too hard for me to go out there and have them lose a medal,” the Courage to Soar author said in a press conference.

She also told Eurosport at the time that she could have gotten hurt due the lack of trust she had in herself following her mistake on the vault.

“It’s so big, it’s the Olympic Games. But at the end of the day, it’s, like, we want to walk out of here, not be dragged out here on a stretcher,” the six-time Olympic medalist explained. “I have to focus on my mental health. We have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do.”

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Biles has since announced that she is not going to compete in the individual all-around competition on Thursday, July 29, in order to “focus on her mental health” over the next few days. “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday, July 28. “Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week’s individual event finals.”

The athlete has yet to determine whether she will return to the gym and participate in the vault, floor exercise and balance beam finals, which will take place from August 1 to August 3.

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