Simone Biles, the most talented, high-soaring gymnast who has ever competed on the world stage, got lost on Tuesday.
And while anyone can get lost, Biles got lost in a very dangerous place — about 10 feet in the air above an Olympic vaulting platform.
After the incident Biles, who had planned to do a vault with two-and-a-half twists but instead completed one with a one-and-a-half twist, said she became “a little bit lost in the air.”
Many gymnasts, along with her former coach, recognized Biles’ problem as something they call the “twisties.”
“Every once in a while, she would form this block and it usually had nothing to do with the gymnastics itself, it had to do with other things going on in her, in her universe,” Biles’ former coach Amiee Boorman told the “Today” show about the four-time gold medal-winning gymnast.
The “twisties” happen to gymnasts when they are in the middle of their routine or even in the middle of a skill. Something causes them to lose awareness of where they are in the skill, and in their relation to the ground.
Retired gymnast Aly Raisman, who was a teammate of Biles’ at the 2016 Olympics, said that she believed that it may have been a case of the “twisties” when Biles left the competition.
“If she did get lost in the air, I do want to say that that is actually very common, because she’s doing such difficult skills and she can twist so much more than the average person,” Raisman told TODAY on Tuesday. “She’s human. Sometimes it happens, when you’re in the air, and we just kind of get confused.”
Former elite U.S. gymnast Ariana Guerra told The Washington Post that she had dealt with the “twisties” multiple times during her career.
Guerra explained that once during her career she was so debilitated by the phenomenon that she could not perform the simplest of skills. She said she would end her practice sessions by doing backward somersaults to try to regain her sense of positioning during complex skills.
“That’s how mental it was,” Guerra said.
Former gymnast Dominique Moceanu, 39, tweeted a video on Wednesday of herself slipping and landing on her head on the balance beam when she was competing in the Atlanta Olympic games. Moceanu, who was part of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in 1996, said, “In our sport, we essentially dive into a pool (with) no water. When you lose your ability to find the ground — which appears to be part of @Simone_Biles decision — the consequences can be catastrophic. She made the right decision for the team & herself.”
What are “the twisties”?
Jamie Shapiro, a certified mental performance coach who is the co-director of the Masters in Sport and Performance Psychology program at the University of Denver, told Health.com that getting the “twisties” means that there is a disconnect between the brain and body
“The body knows what to do and motor programs are stored in the brain, but the brain is having trouble accessing those motor programs,” she explains.
According to Shapiro, they can cause an athlete to not only lose the sense of where they are in the air, but also make the person feel “a loss of a sense of control over the movement.”
Biles spoke about the need to be completely focused on the skill you are performing at the time.
“You have to be there 100% or 120%, because if you’re not the slightest bit, you can get hurt,” Biles said.
Biles has not said whether she will compete in next week’s individual gymnastics competition at the Olympics. Biles said she would take it day-by-day to determine whether she will compete.
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