Here's What Might Have Caused Simone Biles's Dangerous 'Twisties' During the Tokyo Olympics

Here's What Might Have Caused Simone Biles's Dangerous 'Twisties' During the Tokyo Olympics

Two months after withdrawing from the women’s gymnastics team competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Simone Biles is sharing new details about the scary experience that forced her to make that tough decision—and the anxious headspace she was in at the time. The gymnast explained more about what it was like to get the “twisties” in Tokyo, her mental health, the long-term impact of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, and more in an emotional new interview with New York magazine.

Biles was feeling pretty strong and confident going into the Tokyo Games, having gained some coping mechanisms from attending therapy during Olympics training. But she started experiencing anxiety once she got to Tokyo.

Stepping into the world of this particular Olympics was an unfamiliar experience compared to previous years because of COVID-19 safety protocols, New York explains. And Biles just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off: “Everything will be okay, [Biles] thought, but she had a nagging feeling that things were not right.” Even the usual team pep talks from her coaches didn’t restore her confidence. “Leading up to it, I got more and more nervous,” Biles said. “I didn’t feel as confident as I should have been with as much training as we had.”

Biles started fumbling during qualifying events, and the adjustments she and her coaches made to try and help increase her sense of safety (such as adding foam pits) failed to help. “I was not physically capable,” Biles said. “Every avenue we tried, my body was like, Simone, chill. Sit down.”

  Simone Biles

Two days later came the dangerous moment that forced her to withdraw. Biles experienced the terrifying twisties during her vault performance in the women’s team final, causing her to complete only one-and-a-half of her two-and-a-half planned twists and to stumble on the landing. The twisties are a phenomenon, sometimes triggered by stress, in which an athlete’s mind and body experience disconnect while in the air, resulting in a dangerous loss of muscle memory and spatial awareness midair.

At the time, some people speculated that Biles was just having a bad day and wanted to give up. But that couldn’t be further from the truth of the situation, according to Biles. “If I still had my air awareness, and I just was having a bad day, I would have continued,” she told New York. “But it was more than that.”