The Tokyo Olympics were definitely the grounds for a ton of history made by Black women. Across sports and competition, Americans and Black people across the diaspora showed up and showed out. The games also saw many of our favs choosing their mental health and physical safety over bringing home the gold. Among them was the greatest living gymnast, Simone Biles, whose experience with a disorder called “the twisties” caused her to sit out for some of the competitions she’s become most synonymous with.
Though Biles shared pieces of her experience with the condition during the Games, she is finally giving a behind the scenes look at her experience in Tokyo on her show Simone vs. Herself. In the penultimate episode, Simone gives viewers a first hand seat into what she describes as “mental blocks.” “I am getting lost in my skills. I’m so prepared that I don’t know if I’m overthinking,” she says through tears, “but it’s getting to a point where it’s becoming dangerous. It could happen any other time but I don’t get why it’s happening at The Olympics.” The “twisties” are not a new phenomenon and are rather common in the gymnastics world though they are not often discussed. It is a condition in which a gymnast loses spatial awareness making it harder for them to attempt harder skills and land safely.
“I am starting to get these mental blocks where I don’t want to go for the skill because I’m afraid that I am gonna get hurt because I am not doing the right flip,” Simone continues, “at this point I don’t know what to do because it’s too dangerous…we can’t change the routines.” The episode further shows Simone’s attempts to push through and her eventual decision to step down from the competitions. A choice that Biles recently discussed with The Cut for NY Mag in a profile in which she says she felt that she should have quit long before Tokyo.
"If you looked at everything I've gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team," Biles told New York magazine. "I should have quit way before Tokyo, when Larry Nassar was in the media for two years. It was too much. But I was not going to let him take something I've worked for since I was six years old,” Biles said, “I wasn't going to let him take that joy away from me. So I pushed past that for as long as my mind and my body would let me.”
She shared more about the inexplicable loss of her bearings that ultimately left with her the choice of her body and safety or proving a point to the naysayers. "If I still had my air awareness, and I just was having a bad day, I would have continued. But it was more than that. Say up until you're 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight. One morning, you wake up, you can't see sh*t, but people tell you to go on and do your daily job as if you still have your eyesight," Biles explained. “You'd be lost, wouldn't you? That's the only thing I can relate it to. I have been doing gymnastics for 18 years. I woke up -- lost it. How am I supposed to go on with my day?”
Simone, along with athletes like Naomi Osaka and Kyrie Irving, have been very vocal about the mental strain many professional athletes find themselves under when trying to keep up their storied careers and records. We are so happy to see more of them choosing themselves and being vocal about the humanity they are often stripped of when they fail to meet the expectations imposed upon them from the outside world.