Simone Biles has cast serious doubt on her Olympic future while hitting back at her critics following her bronze medal win on the balance beam in Tokyo on Tuesday, insisting that ‘you guys have no idea what we are going through’ after she was accused of ‘abandoning’ her team by pulling out of five finals to ‘focus on her mental health’.
Speaking about her medal win, the 24-year-old revealed that she was only ‘cleared’ to compete in the final on Monday night, after undergoing an assessment by two sports psychologists who were responsible for determining whether she was fit to take part following her struggle with the ‘twisties’, a mental block that causes gymnasts to feel ‘lost in the air’.
Biles also addressed the furious controversy over her decision to pull out of the team, all-around, floor exercise, vault, and uneven bars finals, hitting back at critics who have accused her of ‘quitting’ and ‘abandoning’ her team in Tokyo.
‘You guys have no idea what we are going through,’ she said. ‘We are entertainers but we are also human.’
She then said of her bronze medal-winning performance: ‘I was just went out and did it for me and whatever happens happens,’ she said. ‘I had fun. I had nerves. But I felt pretty good.’
Biles refused to confirm whether she is planning to retire after the Tokyo Games, as many have suggested, insisting that the Paris 2024 Olympics are ‘definitely not in her mind’ because she ‘needs to work on herself first’.
‘I just need to process this whole thing first,’ Biles – who will be 27 years old when the next Games are held – added. ‘I need to process things.’
The gymnast, who will return home to the US within the next 48 hours per the Tokyo Olympics’ COVID-19 safety regulations, is due to depart on a lucrative national gymnastics tour in September. The tour is sponsored by sportswear company Athleta, a brand for which she serves as a spokesmodel.
Tickets for the Gold Over America events, which will also feature Biles’ fellow Olympians Mykayla Skinner and Jordan Chiles, cost up to $200 each, although the most expensive VIP packages are priced at a staggering $349 per person. The gymnast has already confirmed that the tour will go ahead despite her mental health struggles in Tokyo, insisting that the events do not require her to perform skills that could trigger her ‘twisties’.
Simone Biles gets bronze: The gymnast won her seventh Olympic medal in the balance beam final on Tuesday after overcoming the ‘petrifying’ mental issues that saw her pull out of five events
The event final marked Biles’ first return to competition in Tokyo and it is likely to be the last time that gymnastics fans will see her taking part in an elite international event, with the 24-year-old indicating that she will retire after these Olympics
Ready to go: The 24-year-old, from Spring, Texas, pulled off a near-flawless routine to clinch her seventh Olympic medal – which sees her tie 1996 Olympian Shannon Miller for the most won by a US female gymnast
Changes: Biles switched up several elements in her routine in order to ensure she didn’t struggle with the ‘twisties’, a mental block that causes gymnasts to feel ‘lost in the air’ and can result in serious injuries and which has blighted her Olympic dream
Up in the air: During her routine, Biles made just a few balance checks and wobbles, securing an overall score of 14.0 – several tenths of a point higher than her qualifying finish
Biles is pictured in the air as she competes in the balance beam final in Tokyo on Tuesday
Biles came into the 2020 Olympics with a five-medal haul from the 2016 Games – four golds and a bronze – and she claimed her first Tokyo medal in the team final, although she withdrew after just one event, following a major error on the vault
In order to combat the twisties, Biles replaced her signature double-double dismount – which requires two flips and two twists – with a double pike, landing the element with a small step back to end her routine
Biles departed her troubled Tokyo Olympics with one final flip by landing a bronze medal in the balance beam final – after returning to competition following a battle with mental health issues that saw her withdraw from five event finals.
The gymnast proved on Tuesday that she was determined not to leave Japan without showing off her supreme athleticism one last time after dropping out of the team and four individual finals in order to ‘focus on her mental health’.
Team USA – which has been slammed by Biles over its handling of the Larry Nassar scandal – gushed about her win, tweeting: ‘The GOAT got it done’
Biles, who is now a seven-time Olympic medalist, was all smiles after she finished her routine, which earned her a score of 14.0, landing a double pike dismount that helped to clinch her third place at the Ariake Gymnastics Center.
China’s athletes secured both of the top spots, with Guan Chenchen, 16, winning the gold, while her teammate Tang Xijing, 18, clinched the silver.
The Team USA star’s bronze win means that she now ties 1996 Olympian Shannon Miller for the most Olympic medals won by a US female gymnast.
Biles’ appearance in the beam final marked her first return to competition since she made the shock decision to pull out of the all-around, uneven bars, vault, and floor exercise events to ‘focus on her mental health’ – having withdrawn from the team final after making a major mistake on her first event.
She came into Tokyo with a five-medal haul from Rio 2016 – four golds and a bronze – and although she won a silver in last week’s team final, she withdrew after just one event, the vault, leaving her three teammates to finish the competition a man-down.
Biles had the potential to win six medals in Tokyo, however in the days following the team final, she withdrew from event after event, before making the announcement on Monday that she would compete for one last time in Tokyo in the balance beam competition.
The Texan was the third athlete to step up on the five-inch-wide apparatus, completing a 90-second routine that featured a combination of complex tumbling moves and several turning elements, including her signature ‘wolf turn’ which involves spinning around on one foot while crouched down to the beam.
Biles ended her Olympics with a solid overall score, earning a 6.1 for difficulty and a 7.9 for execution.
Biles completed her double pike without major difficulty, taking a small step back, but otherwise pulling it off without a hitch
Biles had to be ‘cleared’ for competition by Team USA doctors in order to ensure that she was safe to take part in the event
In the minutes after her bronze medal win, Biles revealed that she had only been ‘cleared’ for competition by Team USA’s psychologists hours before the final was due to commence, following her struggle with mental health issues
The gymnast replaced all of the twisting elements in her routine to ensure that she did not risk serious injury
Biles looked relieved to have finished her routine and was seen putting her hand to her chest before going to hug her coach
China’s athletes secured both of the top spots, with Guan Chenchen (center), 16, winning the gold, while her teammate Tang Xijing (right), 18, clinched the silver
Although she is normally capable of racking up more points, the gymnast altered her routine in order to combat the ‘twisties’, a mental block that causes gymnasts to feel as though they are ‘lost in the air’, and which prompted Biles’ decision to pull herself out of contention for a medal in four other individual finals, including the all-around competition, which was won by her teammate Sunisa Lee, 18.
USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee – which have both been repeatedly slammed by Nassar abuse victim Biles – spoke out in support of the gymnast, insisting that she was responsible for deciding whether or not to compete in Tokyo, although it was noted that she would have to undergo regular ‘assessments’ in order to determine whether she was fit for competition.
But if Team USA officials were concerned that her self-admitted mental instability would hamper her ability to perform, they need not have worried.
Biles, who is dating Houston Texans footballer Jonathan Owens, appeared confident and calm from the start – with commentators remarking that she looked incredibly sure of herself during the warm-up – a fact that she then proved once she mounted the beam for her routine, which is likely to be the final time gymnastics fans see her compete in an elite international competition.
She leapt with joy after bringing her routine to an end, and was cheered on by US teammates who unfurled the Stars and Stripes flag and screamed loudly as she landed her dismount.
Such was Biles’ draw, the audience swelled ten times over with fellow athletes and officials from competing nations all demanding and securing tickets close to the balance beam.
The 24-year-old gave her coach Cecile Landi a huge hug as soon as she left the floor, beaming with happiness as she then shared an emotional embrace with teammate Lee, who clinched the all-around title in Biles’ absence last week.
Following Biles’ medal win, USA Gymnastics celebrated her return to ‘GOAT’ status on social media, retweeting a post from Team USA, which read: ‘Leading by example. Simone Biles closed the show with a bronze at the Balance Beam final. The GOAT got it done.’
In another tweet the organization – which has come under furious fire from Biles over its handling of the Larry Nassar abuse scandal – wrote: ‘All smiles for Biles! What a showcase of perseverance and strength, closing this Olympics campaign with a bronze medal!’
Biles blew kisses for the cameras and greeted her US teammates, who cheered her on from the stands as she finished her beam routine
After completing her routine, Biles rushed over to her teammate and newly-crowned all-around champion Sunisa Lee and the pair embraced
Lee, 18, has stepped up to the plate to lead the US women’s gymnastics team in Biles’ absence, winning a gold in the all-around following her teammate’s withdrawal, as well as a bronze medal on the uneven bars
The all-around champion suffered a disappointing upset in the beam final, when she wobbled on a tumbling skill and nearly came off the apparatus
Lee had qualified for the balance beam final in third place, but she was unable to hold onto the medal-winning position in the final – having already won team silver, all-around gold, and a bronze on the uneven bars
After the gymnast landed her routine – during which she made only a handful of balance corrections and wobbles – 2008 Olympian-turned-commentator Bridget Sloan remarked that Biles has ‘made the impossible possible’ by overcoming her mental health struggles to return to competition.
The Texas-based sporting star, who won a bronze medal on the balance beam at the Rio 2016 Olympics, walked out onto the floor in a red USA tracksuit alongside teammate and Olympic champion Lee.
Tuesday’s final was her last chance for a gold medal after she pulled out of four final competitions – a move that was criticized by some but ultimately praised for putting her mental health before competing.
At the Rio 2016 Olympics, Biles had to settle for a bronze medal on the balance beam, having made a major error during her routine, which had been expected to win her the gold.
Her decision to take part in the same final in Tokyo gave her the chance to get a second shot at the gold, as well as giving gymnastics fans one last chance to see the GOAT compete.
Earlier today, Biles was pictured in a red, white and blue leotard next to Lee and her coach and she appeared to be in good spirits during the warm-up session.
Biles was seen warming up and practicing her routine on the apparatus at the last training session before the final.
USA Gymnastics announced on Monday that Biles would be joining her teammate Lee in the balance beam final.
‘We are so excited to confirm that you will see two U.S. athletes in the balance beam final tomorrow,’ it said in a statement. ‘Suni Lee AND Simone Biles!! Can’t wait to watch you both!’
The news that Biles was going to compete in the balance beam final indicated that the athlete had managed to work through the mental health struggles which prompted her to pull out of the finals for the vault, floor exercise, and uneven bars – all of which she was expected to medal in.
Instead, Biles has taken on the role of cheerleader and spectator throughout each of the finals, including the floor exercise event on Monday, during which she was seen clapping and yelling while teammate Jade Carey, 21, competed in the Ariake Gymnastics Center.
Biles was pictured in the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on Monday next to MyKayla Skinner (center) and Grace McCallum (right) to cheer teammate Jade Carey to a gold medal on floor
The 24-year-old (pictured with her teammates from the men’s and women’s team) has taken on the role of enthusiastic supporter and cheerleader throughout the other event finals
Tuesday’s attempt at gold will be Biles’ last appearance at the Tokyo Olympics – during which gymnast has endured a troubling struggle with poor mental health, leading her to drop out of four competitions, including the team and all-around finals.
It remains to be seen whether Biles will manage to surge ahead to medal glory in the balance beam final, which she qualified for in a disappointing seventh place – while her teammate Lee finished in third place in the preliminary competition behind Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing.
Biles, a three-time World balance beam champion, has been putting in plenty of training time ahead of Tuesday’s final, working on several new skills that will allow her to complete a routine without worrying about her struggle with the ‘twisties’ – a mental phenomenon that causes gymnasts to feel like they are ‘lost in the air’ and can result in devastating injury.
‘It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind & body in sync,’ Biles wrote in an Instagram story last week, noting that she’d had these kinds of periods before and it had usually taken around two weeks to recover.
‘Something you literally have to take day by day, turn by turn.’
At the Rio 2016 Olympics, Biles (pictured today) had to settle for a bronze medal on the balance beam, having made a major error during her routine, which had been expected to win her the gold
Tuesday’s attempt at gold will be Biles’ last appearance at the Olympics – during which gymnast has endured a troubling struggle with poor mental health, leading her to drop out of four competitions, including the team and all-around finals
Biles concentrates as she practices her routine on Tuesday during a training session before the balance beam final
It remains to be seen whether Biles will manage to surge ahead to medal glory in the balance beam final, which she qualified for in a disappointing seventh place – while her teammate Lee finished in third place in the preliminary competition behind Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing
Other gymnasts concurred, both in how terrifying the condition can be – getting it might not just cost you a medal but also cost you your life – and how there’s no clear prescription for recovery.
‘Like when you are getting lost in the air and you don’t quite know where you are. It’s hard, man,’ said Dylan Schmidt, who took bronze in trampoline at Tokyo.
‘I’ve had it before and to bounce back it usually takes a few days to build that confidence back. The sport is hard.’
Biles shocked the world last week when she did one vault at the start of the women’s team final and then pulled out, later saying she had lost her way in the air.
Most agreed that it was a measure of how skilled a gymnast Biles is that she was able to land on her feet at all after her vault in the team competition went badly wrong and escape without injury.
Laurie Hernandez, a gold medal gymnastics Olympian from Rio 2016, said beam is probably the safest competition for somebody struggling with the ‘twisties’.
‘For starters, it is upright. When you are on bars, you are swinging upside down consistently,’ Hernandez told the ‘Today Show.’
Beam is also easier because skills there involve fewer twists, and gymnastics watchers said they thought Biles would likely use an easier dismount than usual as a precaution.
‘So I think beam is probably the safest route in terms of doing skills that don’t have too many twists. I’m curious to see what she’ll do for her dismount, but I have a feeling she’s going to do very well,’ Hernandez said.
Biles has stressed that being aged 24 and the oldest member of the US women’s team has added to her anxieties and is one of the reasons ‘the demons’ have affected her in Tokyo.
Simone, one of the greatest all time Olympic gymnasts, will be 27 when the next games are staged in Paris in 2024 and has indicated that she plans to retire from elite competition long before then.
She said she had lost confidence and worried about competing and was suffering the ‘twisties’ which hamper the ability to maintain any awareness in the air, and can therefore result in serious injury.
Ready to go: In 2016 (pictured), Biles had to settle for bronze in the balance beam final – but she will now get another chance to claim gold in the event
Biles made a very rare error during her routine in the Rio 2016 final and, while she managed to stay on the apparatus, the mistake cost her a chance at winning
Biles has received glowing praise for her ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ to put her mental health before competing after she pulled out of multiple finals, with a number of Olympic champions past and present sending her messages of support over the past weeks.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach admitted Biles’ bravery to confront her mental health problems in front of the world is ‘admirable’.
He said: ‘I can only say, you know, we are with her. I must personally say I had the opportunity to at least briefly talk with her after the team competition.
‘I’m really admiring how she’s handling the situation. She admits to having this problem. This is already courageous. Who one year ago would have admitted to say (they) have mental health problems?
‘And at the same time then cheering on (her) teammates. And then being there, and supporting when her successor is in the all-around final? This is, you know, great human quality and this is Olympic spirit at its best.’
Britain’s newly-crowned double Olympic champion on the Pommel Horse Max Whitlock said in a message to Biles: ‘You’ve pushed boundaries time and time again. Rest up and take time.’
US swimming legend Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals, talked about the need for mental health resources for Olympic athletes after Biles withdrew from a number of events, having revealed back in 2018 he suffered with depression himself and contemplated suicide after the 2012 London Games.
How the terrifying ‘twisties’ upended Simone Biles’ quest for Olympic glory: Gymnasts explain ‘dreaded’ and VERY dangerous mental ‘phenomenon’ that left one athlete PARALYZED
When Simone Biles announced her decision to drop out of the team final and women’s all-around competitions at the Olympics this week, the four-time Olympic gold medalist cited a scary mental issue: ‘They saw it a little bit in practice. Having a little bit of the twisties,’ she said.
To many non-gymnasts, it seemed that the problem was simply that the pressure got to be too much for her, or that she didn’t want to risk jeopardizing her ‘GOAT’ status with anything less than gold.
But to those familiar with the sport, the references to ‘twisties’ indicated something much more serious — and possibly even life-threatening.
Several gymnasts — including former Olympians — have since taken to Twitter to explain just what the dreaded ‘twisties’ are, and why Simone’s choice to back out while experiencing them may be saving her from catastrophic injury.
Catherine Burns, a former gymnast and diver from California, went viral with her Twitter thread ‘attempting to explain the mental phenomenon Simone Biles is experiencing: the dreaded twisties.’
Oh no! To those familiar with the sport, the references to ‘twisties’ indicated something much more serious — and possibly even life-threatening.
Quick explainer: Catherine Burns went viral with her Twitter thread ‘attempting to explain the mental phenomenon Simone Biles is experiencing: the dreaded twisties’
‘When you’re flipping or twisting (or both!) it is very disorienting to the human brain,’ she explained. ‘When training new flips and twists, you need external cues to learn how it feels to complete the trick correctly. (In diving, a coach yells ‘OUT’ and you kick your body straight and pray).
‘Once you’ve practiced a trick enough, you develop the neural pathways that create kinesthesia which leads to muscle memory. Your brain remembers how your body feels doing the trick and you gain air awareness,’ she said.
Kinesthesia is the awareness of the position and movement of parts of the body by means of sensory organs in the muscles and joints.
Catherine then offered up an example of what the twisties might look like for a non-gymnast.
‘Think about something that took you a while to learn and required a lot of concentration at the time to get it right, but now is second nature. Driving a car is a good example (especially stick!),’ she said.
‘Suddenly, in the middle of driving on the freeway, right as you need to complete a tricky merge, you have totally lost your muscle memory of how to drive a car. You have to focus on making you foot press the pedal at the right angle, turn the steering wheel just so, shift gears.
‘It’s terrifying,’ she said. ‘You’re moving way too fast, you’re totally lost, you’re trying to THINK but you know you don’t usually have to think to do these maneuvers, you just feel them and do them.
When training to flip and twist, gymnasts use external cues. Once they’ve done it enough, they develop ‘neural pathways that create kinesthesia which leads to muscle memory
Terrifying: But when one develops the twisties, they suddenly lose that muscle memory
Kinesthesia, interrupted: For a gymnast in the air, that can mean falling fast and hard — and if they land the wrong way, it can lead to broken bones, spinal cord injuries, or even death
‘The twisties are like this, and often happen under pressure. You’re working so hard to get it right that you stop trusting your muscle memory. You’re getting lost in the air, second-guessing your instincts, overthinking every movement.
‘It’s not only scary and unnerving, it’s incredibly dangerous even if you’re doing basic gymnastics. The level of skills Simone throws combined with the height and power she gets can lead to catastrophic injury if you’re not confident and connected to your kinesthesia.’
‘When Simone says she’s taking it day by day, this is why. She’s not soft. She didn’t choke,’ Catherine said
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to shake off.
‘This isn’t as easy to fix as just sleeping it off and hoping for a better day tomorrow. It can look like retraining entire routines and tricks. I never mastered my front 1.5 with a full twist because I’d get the twisties and it would mess with my other twisting dives,’ she said.
‘So. When Simone says she’s taking it day by day, this is why. She’s not soft. She didn’t choke. She isn’t giving up. It’s a phenomenon every gymnast and diver has experienced and she happens to be experiencing it at the Olympics. Can you imagine the frustration? The heartbreak?’
Catherine’s thread has gone viral, and other gymnasts have chimed in with their own thoughts, support, and stories.
‘It’s hard to explain the twisties to someone who doesn’t do gymnastics, but it’s a mental block and it’s real,’ wrote Missy Marlowe, an Olympic gymnast who competed at the 1988 Summer Games.
She’s had ’em, too! Missy Marlowe, an Olympic gymnast who competed at the 1988 Summer Games, shared her own experience with twisties
‘It’s like a non-serious stroke, you’re brain and body disconnect,’ she said. ‘And you can feel how to do something in your brain but you can’t make your body respond’
‘I had it happen twice, when I was 12 and 20. You cannot fix it quickly — can take months, if at all. It’s like a non-serious stroke, you’re brain and body disconnect,’ she went on.
‘And you can feel how to do something in your brain but you can’t make your body respond. You can twist the wrong direction, or start out twisting and get lost right on takeoff and you end up bailing out of the skill so you don’t crash.’
Gold medalist Dominique Moceanu, who applauded Biles for ‘demonstrating that we have a say in our own health,’ also pointed out that ‘the twisties only get worse with stress.’
Ariana Guerra, a University of Alabama gymnast, chimed in to shared her experience with the twisties.
‘At one point in my career when I would try to do a double layout, I would twist instead of doing the double layout. It’s scary and it can be dangerous especially landing on hard landings,’ she said.
A woman named Becca DiPaolo said that getting the twisties was one of the main reasons she stopped doing gymnastics after 15 years.
She gets it! Gold medalist Dominique Moceanu applauded Biles for ‘demonstrating that we have a say in our own health’
Yikes! She also pointed out that ‘ the twisties only get worse with stress’
‘It is the scariest most uncontrollable sensation. Being mid-air with no awareness is the most vulnerable and terrifying feeling. I am praying for Simone so unbelievably hard,’ she said.
Retired gymnast Danni Scribani even described her own terrible injury during a bout of the twisties.
‘The last time I had ‘twisties,’ it landed me with a L3-L5 fracture, a back brace, and a wheelchair for a few weeks. It sucks and it can be dangerous,’ she said.
It was even worse for former gymnast Jacoby Miles, who was left permanently paralyzed after a case of the twisties.
In 2012, when she was just 15 years old, the was practicing the sport when she landed on her neck. She was a level nine gymnast at the time — just two below the Olympic skill level — when she suffered the devastating fall, leaving her in a wheelchair.
In light of her own experience, Jacoby said her ‘heart goes out’ to Simone and she is ‘so so glad she decided not to continue until she’s mentally recovered.’
‘I experienced those mental blocks throughout my career as a gymnast, and to be quite blunt, it only took one bad time of getting lost (or getting what they call the ‘twisties’) in the air in a big flip to break my neck and leave me paralyzed… most likely for life,’ she wrote on Instagram.
Meanwhile, other non-gymnasts grasping the concept of twisties for the first time have taken to comparing the phenomenon to ‘the yips,’ which athletes in many others sports — including golf and basketball — experience.
But the difference between the twisties and the yips, they point out, is that the worst outcome of the yips is a bad performance, while the worst outcome of the twisties is death or catastrophic injury.