What Are the Twisties in Gymnastics? Simone Biles' Experience Explained

A mental state little-known outside the world of professional gymnastics brought the four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles down on July 28, causing her to temporarily pull out of this year's competition.

But Biles returned on Tuesday, trying her best to overcome the terrifying mental disorientation that scuppered her hopes of six gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.

In the balance beam final, she managed bronze, behind two Chinese teenagers—Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing, aged 16 and 18.

Biles opened up on July 30 about her reasons for withdrawing from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics two days before, telling her fans it was because she had the twisties "really bad" this time.

Her comments came after she made the shock decision to pull out of the games, after tripping off the mat during a floor routine and had a bad landing on the vault in the competition.

She dropped out of the all-around, floor exercise, vault and asymmetric bars finals, originally citing reasons related to mental health.

The twisties is a mental block when an athlete loses their spatial awareness during a intense routine, which could lead to serious injuries. It is widely-experienced by gymnasts performing dizzyingly quick routines and many find it terrifying.

Newsweek contacted Tim Allardyce, a former Olympic physio, for comments on the phenomena.

Explaining the sensation in an Instagram post on Friday morning, Biles said: "It's never transferred to bars and beam before. It strictly likes floor and vault, go figure, the scariest two."

"But this time it's literally on every event, which sucks really bad," she added.

Biles said that it typically takes her two weeks to recover from them, but it varies from athlete to athlete.

The mental block can happen to any gymnast, even if they've done the same routine for years.

Other gymnasts who experienced twisties spoke out in support of Biles after she revealed that she was suffering from it.

British gymnast Claudia Fragapane competed at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but fell on the uneven bars due to twisties. She suffered a similar accident in April this year, which led to her injuring her head and missing the Tokyo games.

After Biles mentioned the condition had contributed to her withdrawing, Fragapane said she understood how she was feeling.

"She has got a lot of weight on her shoulders," Fragapane told the BBC. "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."

Biles captured the bronze at the beam finals on Tuesday, a category where twisting is much less prevalent than on the other apparatus in women's gymnastics.

Simone Biles pulls an unimpressed expression.
Simone Biles of Team USA looks less than impressed during Women's Qualification on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 25, 2021. A mental block for gymnasts, referred to 'twisties', was part of the reason why she pulled out of the all-around, floor exercise, vault and asymmetric bars finals. Jamie Squire/Getty Images