What is ‘twisties’, the mental condition that forced Simone Biles to quit

The four-time Olympic gold medalist, US gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of the ongoing Tokyo Olympics 2020 due to a medical condition ahead of the finals. After Simone received her lowest Olympic score on the vault due to an awkward landing in the women’s artistic all-around team final against Russia, she decided to pull out of the games citing her mental health issue.

Since then there is a lot of buzz created around mental health and depression, especially of athletes, on the international stage. From the celebrities to the common man, all pitching in with their comments on the issue. Simone Biles received a lot of applause and support for her brave decision from many fellow athletes and fans online. However, she also had to face some criticism, some even going to the extent of calling her a coward. 

On Tuesday, while interacting with journalists, Simone Biles opened up about her condition saying she was ‘having a little bit of the twisties’, which is a mental health condition that specifically affects gymnasts. Imagine you are defying the laws of gravity and soaring in the air, but when you want to land the mind does not take your orders?

This mental condition occurs when the body and mind become disconnected, posing a danger to athletes. Simone Biles went undefeated for eight years in gymnastics but now her body seems to give in to this mental health condition.

After the decision, Simone posted a video to her Instagram story talking about the extent of the condition, which she said is occurring during every event. The video, however, has been deleted now. The gymnast is the first woman since 1992 to qualify for all four event finals, but it is unclear whether she will compete this weekend. 

Understanding ‘twisties’ that affect gymnasts

‘Twisties’ gets its name from the aerial twisting skills gymnasts perform, a phenomenon that needs further study for understanding.

It is described as a mental block by gymnasts, which causes them to lose spatial awareness while performing, thereby losing control of their body. 

There is a disconnect between the body and mind in this condition and leads to disorientation.

The condition can either be caused on a mental level by stress and anxiety or on a physical level by focal dystonia.

As per experts, focal dystonia causes ‘involuntary muscle spasms’ if muscles are overused.

For gymnasts, who rely on muscle memory while twisting through the air at high speeds and heights, loss of control threatens their ability to fall back to the ground safely.

According to Simone, they are not just affecting her on vault and floor exercise, as in the past but are also affecting her bars and beam moves now.

Janelle B. Smith

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