Simone Biles’s terrifying experience at the Tokyo Olympics this summer continues to impact the way she performs gymnastics to this day. Biles revealed in a new interview that she is “still scared” to do certain moves—but also feels strong and proud of herself for getting through it.
On the Today show this week, Biles shared that she still gets the “twisties” when she performs. The phenomenon, sometimes triggered by stress, occurs when an athlete’s mind and body have a disconnect midair, resulting in a potentially dangerous loss of muscle memory and spatial awareness. That danger forced her to pull out of several Olympics events earlier this year—and it’s what prevents her from doing any moves that require twisting in mid-air on the Gold Over America Tour she is currently on.
“I don’t twist,” Biles said of her Gold Over America Tour performances. “I do double layout half-outs, which is my signature move on the floor, but that’s never affected me,” Biles explained. “Everything else—it just weighs so heavy. And I watch the girls do it. It’s just not the same.” Biles added, “I’m still scared to do gymnastics.”
Biles also spoke about how frustrating it is “to do something that I’ve done forever and just not be able to do it because of everything I’ve gone through,” considering how much she loves the sport. “It’s hard,” she said, tearing up. “I don’t think people understand the magnitude of what I go through. But for so many years to go through everything that I’ve gone through and put on a front, I’m proud of myself.”
In the interview, the four-time Olympic champion also revisited what happened in Tokyo, connecting her long-time repression of being sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar with getting the twisties. “Over the years, after suppressing so many emotions and putting up a front on a global scene, I think really all of that came to light,” Biles said. “My body and my mind allowed me to suppress all of that stuff for so many years for as long as it could take. And as soon as we stepped on the Olympics scene, it just decided it couldn’t do it anymore, and it cracked.”
Reflecting back on that moment when she realized she wouldn’t be able to perform, Biles said she at first almost blamed herself for the anxiety and mind-body disconnect she was experiencing. “But I knew I couldn’t put that blame on myself,” she said. “And once that happened, all the pieces were put together and I knew exactly what was going on, why it was happening.”
Biles believes her experience shows the importance of facing mental health issues head-on. “That’s why taking care of your mental wellbeing and mental health is so important so that something like that doesn’t happen,” said Biles. “I’m grateful that it wasn’t somebody else, and it was me because I know I’m strong enough and I can get back on my feet and I’m going to be OK with the right help,” she continued.