Simone Biles says ‘the twisties’ threw her off in all-around finals. But what are they?

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Athletes from the USA support their teammate Simon Biles during the Artistic Gymnastics Women Final of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake? Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo, Japan, 27 July 2021 (EPA)
Athletes from the USA support their teammate Simon Biles during the Artistic Gymnastics Women Final of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake? Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo, Japan, 27 July 2021 (EPA)

Simon Biles, the star athlete of the Tokyo Olympics, said “twisties” threw her off in the all-around finals and forced a realisation that she needed to withdraw from the event. But what are the twisties that have everyone in a twist?

On Tuesday, Biles said her teammates witnessed her twisties during practice. Her struggle was confirmed during the medal round where instead of the planned two and a half twists, she only did one and a half. The last couple of times that Biles experienced this was before the 2016 Rio Olympics and again in 2019.

To make twisties easy to understand, it can be explained as a kind of block in the mind which Christina Myers, a strength coach, says is “when your body stops doing what you want it to do.”

She explains that it can mean the body can add or delete twists or flips from what an athlete initially had set out to do.

“The twisties can absolutely happen even in skills you’ve done a 1000x. And as I mentioned earlier, your conscious brain WANTS to do the skill right, and the rest of your body just says no,” Myers said in a series of tweets.

In January 2020, Biles had told Olympics.com that “2019, at the beginning of the year, I forgot how to twist and flip.”

The sudden hesitation - even for a flip second – can cause a sportsperson as basic as a loss to a career and life-threatening injury. Many former athletes or coaches who expressed support for the decision of Simon Biles have also said that the twisties or block can happen even if an athlete has practised that move thousands of times.

And how dangerous this block can be, is something former gymnast Jacoby Miles knows well.

In a post on Instagram on the struggle of Simone Biles, she said: “She was mentally not doing well, which was causing her to get lost in the air… which never happens to her.”

Miles said she “experienced these mental blocks throughout my career as a gymnast.”

“ … and to be quite blunt, it only took one bad time of getting lost (or what they called the “twisties”) in the air in a big flip to break my neck and leave me paralysed… most likely for life … So I’m so so glad she decided to not continue until she’s mentally recovered,” Miles said.

Myers remembers how her own career was destroyed.

“I once developed a nasty case of the twisties that my coaches tried to force me through that spiralled into me not being able to do a single backwards skill on ANY event … (not even a backward roll on floor) for two whole years,” she said.

“ … And then it still wasn’t the skills, it was the feeling out of control that kept it all so scary. Flying through the air with no ability to control what I was doing, despite knowing exactly how to do it. That period of my career destroyed my back and ultimately took me out of the sport,” Myers said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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