ESSAY: KPRC 2′s Keith Garvin and his daughters weigh in on Simone Biles and the very serious problem of the ‘twisties’

Simone Biles, of the United States, waits to perform on the vault during the artistic gymnastics women's final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo. The American gymnastics superstar has withdrawn the all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

So many are shocked and asking how Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, could make it to the world stage, as she has on so many occasions in recent years, and all of a sudden have a mental block that prevents her from taking the gold medals so many of us wanted to see her earn here in Tokyo. Some are questioning if she truly is the G.O.A.T. if she is unable to just “suck it up” and “act” like the greatest. You know, “step-up” like a real champ. What is happening with Simone, in my opinion, has no bearing on her status as the greatest gymnast of all time. Her record verifies that fact-- no need to argue. What she reportedly is dealing with is very real and is not something that can be readily controlled, if at all.

The term “twisties” sounds harmless but they actually can be very dangerous and, with Simone’s power and skill level, could be potentially deadly. The twisties are described as a phenomenon that can cause someone to lose their sense of space and dimension as they’re in the air. That then causes them to lose control of their body and they may perform extra twists or flips that they hadn’t intended to do. Sometimes, the person may find themselves unable to land safely on the floor. It can even happen to a gymnast who has done the same routine over and over again without any problem.

So think about the danger level for Simone, if that were to happen. She stands 4′8″ but on her floor routine can rise nearly 10 feet in the air. That’s more than twice her height. On the vault, she’s actually flying even higher, higher than the majority of the male gymnasts who are at the world-class level. Basketball hoops are 10′ and NBA players who are 6′8″ can dunk a ball into the goal but none of them can bring their entire bodies that high while twisting several times in the air and then land perfectly on two feet.

In my family’s group text, I brought up this issue with my wife Lisa and our four girls, two of which have an idea of what Simone might be dealing with. In fact, my second oldest daughter is the same age as Simone, so I’ve thought a lot about how we would handle a situation like this.

Daughters #1 and #4 (yes, I’ve numbered them because sometimes I forget their names) have been involved in Level-5 competitive cheer for a number of years. My oldest daughter Kalee’ (pronounce kuh – LEE- uh) won two national titles at Baylor University as a member of their Acrobatics and Tumbling team. She was actually on that team with one of Mary Lou Retton’s daughters. Kalee’ and our youngest daughter Raegan don’t have Simone’s skills (no one does) but they have won world titles in all-star cheer and developed decent tumbling ability. This is what they had to say in our family group chat about the twisties Simone is dealing with. Keep in mind, you’ll need to multiply the effects for someone with Simone’s power and skill:

Daughter #1:

-Feeling lost in the air is very scary, not gonna lie

-When I started doing full 1/2s at Baylor I used to have to trick myself into not being scared

Kaleé at 5 and in 2015 when Baylor won the first of six consecutive national titles in the sport of Acrobatics and Tumbling (KPRC 2)

Daughter #4:

-It makes it way harder to determine where you are in the air

Daughter #1:

-And not sure if y’all know this but I didn’t do more than a full most of my sophomore year for the same reason

-So my point is I can relate to how scary that feels. When you stop relying on muscle memory and start thinking about what you’re actually doing it’s very scary when you’re mid-air

Daughter #4:

-Like I could think I was in the last quarter of a double and I’d only gotten to a half

Raegan at 5 and then this year at 17 after earning bronze at the Allstar World Championship (KPRC 2)

So according to two people whom I trust who have dealt with the twisties, the issue isn’t only scary, but it makes it “way harder to determine where you are in the air,” causes you to feel “lost in the air,” and forces you to “stop relying on muscle memory,” making you think about what you’re actually doing when you’re in mid-air. Mid-air for Simone Biles is 10 feet. A superhuman and furiously fast 10 feet. There isn’t enough gold in the world to risk seeing her forget where she is in the air and land the wrong way on the floor below.

Our KPRC 2 news director made a great analogy when addressing Simone’s issue, speaking to someone who stated that you would never see Tom Brady quit on a fourth-quarter drive in the Super Bowl. The difference between Simone Biles and Tom Brady, as my boss pointed out, is that Brady doesn’t have a real chance of breaking his neck on a given play, especially with recent rules designed to protect quarterbacks. Simone could be a quadriplegic if she misses a backflip on the balance beam.

Another issue we all need to consider is the fact that Simone has stated in the last few months and weeks that not only was her body hurting but she was getting more fearful in the air. One of the reasons the average age for male gymnasts is higher than for female gymnasts is because the fear factor for females grows the older they get. Age plays other roles in women’s gymnastics as well, emotionally and physiologically. I remember covering Simone in Rio five years ago when she was only 19. She was one of the younger girls on that team but now at 24 has described herself as “one of the grandmas.” Having to wait more than a year to compete in Tokyo was not a positive for Simone. I believe she, like many of the other “older” athletes, was wanting to compete in 2020 for a number of reasons.

Some people may be unhappy that this ordeal has played out on the Olympic world stage. I, like most everyone else, wanted to see her go out there and dominate as she has for several years. When we watch her compete, we are watching history almost every time. So I understand the disappointment, to a point. But I believe what we have here is a 24-year-old woman who could have seriously injured herself or even worse trying to please “fans.” I am extremely proud of her for making the right and bold decision to protect herself and provide an amazing example for all. Like a true champion does.


About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning anchor/reporter, husband, dad, German Shepherd owner, Crossfitter, Game of Thrones junkie, chupacabra hunter.