The delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics hasn’t gone at all as expected for Simone Biles. After qualifying for all six women’s artistic gymnastics finals and potentially setting herself up for an even better showing than her five-medal performance at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the gymnastics superstar has now pulled out of four of them. She’s been sidelined by a case of “the twisties,” so being able to compete in her remaining events is anything but a given.
Biles’ first withdrawal came during the team final on July 27 after she got lost in the air during a vault and told her coaches and teammates she couldn’t safely continue. With the individual all-around competition just two days later, she again made the tough call not to compete. Then, on July 30, there was more bad news. USA Gymnastics announced Biles’ withdrawal from the floor exercise and uneven bars. It’s now a waiting game to see if she can be ready for her final two events.
“Today, after further consultation with medical staff, Simone Biles has decided to withdraw from the event finals for vault and the uneven bars,” USAG’s July 30 statement read in part. “She will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether to compete in the finals for floor exercise and balance beam.”
Biles has been suffering from “the twisties,” a common but scary mental block that disrupts a gymnast’s mind-body connection. Explaining it in a series of Instagram stories on July 30 in Tokyo, the six-time Olympic medalist wrote that she “literally can not tell up from down” while twisting in the air and that “it’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind & body in sync.” She emphasized the serious injury risk this poses because of the dangerous skills that gymnasts routinely perform. Video that Biles posted amid her explanation showed her practicing the bars over a foam pit and still struggling.
Unfortunately, getting over the twisties isn’t easy. Biles explained in her Instagram stories that this isn’t her first time dealing with the issue and you have to go “day by day, turn by turn” to overcome it. What’s especially tough this time is that the twisties are affecting her on every event. (In the past, she said, it “never transferred to bars & beam” for her.) That means that her remaining two apparatus finals are likely in jeopardy. The floor exercise comes first, on Aug. 2, and the balance beam follows on Aug. 3.
Despite her very valid reason for not competing, Biles has faced a lot of criticism from some corners of the internet. The GOAT responded to many of their complaints in her stories, including the idea that she should have let someone else compete in her place. She informed her detractors that she was not experiencing the twisties before leaving for Tokyo and that it was too late to sub someone in when they emerged. “It randomly started happening after prelims competition,” she wrote. “By that time NO an alternate was not allowed to be place in my position for you ‘know it alls.’”
Aside from the team event (which still resulted in a silver medal for Team USA), other gymnasts are, in fact, getting the opportunity to take her place. Jade Carey, one of the U.S. women’s two individual specialists, was able to compete in the all-around and ended up in eighth place. Meanwhile, the other specialist, MyKayla Skinner, will now compete on vault after finishing fourth on the apparatus during qualification but initially being kept out of the final by the two-per-country rule. She joins Carey in that competition, and France’s Melanie de Jesus dos Santos has been bumped into the uneven bars final. If Biles is unable to compete in the floor exercise and balance beam finals, Great Britain’s Jennifer Gadirova and Japan’s Ashikawa Urara will step in.
For Skinner, it’s a bittersweet development. After at first not qualifying for any event finals, she thought she had competed in her last meet. “Heartbroken is an understatement, but I am proud of myself for getting here after everything I’ve been through,” she wrote in part on Instagram. However, following the announcement of her friend and teammate’s withdrawal, Skinner posted again, writing, “Looks like I get to put a competition Leo on just one more time. Can’t wait to compete in vault finals. Doing this for us @simonebiles … It’s go time baby!”
This post will be updated as the situation develops.