OLYMPIC GAMES | GYMNASTICS

Simone Biles suffers twisties: What are they? How do they affect gymnasts?

The mental block known as “twisties”, can happen at any time and with any manovre, they hit so hard that not even the GOAT can run away from them.

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Simone Biles suffers twisties: What are they ? How do they affect gymnasts?
MIKE BLAKE REUTERS

The four-time Olympic gymnastics champion, who was expected to become the most-decorated gymnast in history this summer, paralyzed the world when her withdrawal from the individual all-around competition came public Wednesday.

“Emotionally, it varies on the time and moment. Coming to the Olympics and being the head star isn’t an easy feat,” said Biles to the NBC before confessing that what she was actually going through was not a physical issue but a mental related one known as the “twisties”.

“They saw it a little bit in practice... having a little bit of the twisties.”

Simone Biles

What are the "twisties"?

Gymnasts have described twisties as an uncontrollable fear when they are performing, a kind of  mental block which just lasts for a second but that can make you hurt yourself or ruin the whole exercise in the best of the cases.

Simone Biles of the United States in action on the vault REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Twisties can happen to any gymnast even with that one manovre they have done for years perfectly, but they are most common to happen during the vault and floor exercises.

However, the mental block is not only experienced by gymnasts, other sports have described similar feelings, such as the “yips” in golf.

How do they affect gymnasts?

"Imagine skydiving and your parachute won't open," said Christina Myers, a former gymnast and coach. "Your body starts adding extra twists and flips to the skill days ago felt as routine"

"Your body feels like it suddenly has a mind of its own."

Former gymnast Christina Myers

This world of uncertainty describes the kind of fear some gymnasts experience while suffering the twisties.

This well-known term in the world of gymnastics, can suddenly cause a person to loose their sense of space and dimension while they are in the air, provoking them to do extra flips or twists they were not intended to do due to the impossibility of controlling their body. In the worst cases, they can find themselves suddenly unable to land safely.

As Biles made her issue with the “twisties” public, many gymnasts came up supporting the GOAT and recounted their own experiences dealing with twisties.

“The rhythm is off, and your brain will like stutter step for half a second and that’s enough to throw off the whole skill,” said Biles' teammate on Rio 2016 Laurie Hernandez. “It becomes difficult to compartmentalize the exact element a gymnast’s body is attempting.”

"She has got a lot of weight on her shoulders. Everyone thinks that she is just going to be absolutely out of this world and perfect and she's not human. But actually she is human, and I think the pressure just got too much.

"It's really dangerous if you doubt yourself a little bit, or you find it really hard, you can really really hurt yourself. I've been in her shoes and I ended up hurting myself." British gymnast Claudia Fragapane said.