A few days after Simone Biles’s surprising withdrawal from the women’s gymnastics team competition during the Tokyo Olympics, the 24-year-old took to Instagram to share more details about what she’s experiencing—and why it would make competing dangerous.
After her withdrawal, Biles told reporters in Tokyo that she had “the twisties,” which is a phenomenon where your brain and body don’t quite connect, resulting in a loss of spacial awareness. Laurie Hernandez, one of Biles’s 2016 Olympics teammates and current NBC commentator for the Tokyo Games, told Olympics.com that the twisties make it really difficult for gymnasts to complete high-level elements safely.
“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,” Hernandez told the outlet. “And, so, it happens, and it takes a second to get over that.”
Although Biles really doesn’t owe any sort of explanation to us about her withdrawal, she decided to open up a bit on her social media. She shared video footage of unsuccessful attempts of her typical twists and flips on the uneven bars, leaving her landing—hard—on the practice mats. The videos make it crystal clear why pushing herself to throw these elements in competition while still suffering from the twisties would be a very bad idea with potentially life-threatening consequences.
You can watch the videos here, thanks to the Gymnastics Now Twitter account:
“For anyone saying I quit, I didn’t quit. My mind and body are simply not in sync,” Biles wrote. “I don’t think you realize how dangerous this is on hard/competition surface.”
In the video, she’s flipping onto multiple cushy mats. These are not the same mats that are out on the gym floor during competition—those are not even close in cushioning ability.
She also shares that this problem wasn’t happening before she left the U.S. to head to Tokyo. “It randomly started happening after prelims competition the VERY next morning,” she wrote.
Biles ends by reiterating that she chose to sit out of the team competition so that she wouldn’t risk a medal for the team—and for her own safety and health.
Biles’s decision to put her mental and physical health first is a stunning sign of her strength as an athlete and a person. For all the people on social media who are giving her flack for withdrawing, there are just as many who are praising her for making that decision under an unbelievable amount of pressure. (You can obviously count us in the latter category—there’s nothing we love more than seeing an athlete take a stand for her own well-being and do what’s best for her and her teammates.)
It’s still TBD whether Biles will compete in the individual gymnastics event finals next week—she’s supposed to do all four. USA Today reported that Mykayla Skinner, who finished fourth in vault qualifiers but did not get a spot in the finals because of a two-athlete-per-country rule, was asked to stay in Tokyo and is currently practicing in case Biles does not compete in the event.
There are no alternative options for Biles on the beam, bars, and floor, because only two athletes on Team USA got the scores needed to qualify in the preliminary event. Newly minted all-around gold medalist Suni Lee is already competing in the bars and beam events, and Jade Carey is competing in vault and floor.
The women’s vault and bars finals take place on August 1, the floor finals on August 2, and the beam finals on August 3.