When Simone Biles pulled out of several team and individual events at the Olympic Games, prioritising her mental health due to a case of the “twisties’”, there was an almost unanimous outpouring of support for her on social media.
Unfortunately, there were still a number of dissenters such as this who were far more critical.
Thank U for quitting on your teammates. Thank U for showing us that those of us who are forced to go to work to pay bills,pay rent,put food&clothes on our kids,take care of our elderly parents can just quit on them whenever we want
— IceMan (@Izakcoffin) July 31, 2021
@Simone_Biles: A story not of success, but rather regression to the mean. Not of resilience & persistence, but rather giving up.
This is what failure looks like.
— TenLetters ඞ (@TenLetters100) July 31, 2021
So is Simone Biles a quitter, or is she a hero for having the courage to put her mental health first?
To answer this more fully, let’s take a look at the situation more fully.
The Weight Of A Nation And The ‘Twisties’
There’s no doubt that heading into this delayed Olympic Games, Simone Biles was expected to win several gold medals both as part of the US Team and individually. That weight of expectation when you are as talented as Biles brings with it its own pressure.
So, did she crumble under that weight of pressure? Was it this which caused her case of the “twisties”?
And crucially, should she have just tried to compete anyway and hope her case of the “Twisties” righted itself in competition?
Part of the issue is the perception of what the ‘twisties’ is. It is a mental condition, similar to the yips in golf. It is a mental block which prevents the performer completing even a routine task to their usual standard.
Now while in golf, this may result in missed putts, which is frustrating, the difference in gymnastics is that the end result of the “twisties” is not only be detrimental to performance, but incredibly dangerous.
Gymnasts Explain Why “Fighting” The Twisties Does Not Work
Former gymnast Catherine Burns explained the Twisties as:
“You’re moving way too fast, you’re totally lost, you’re trying to think but you know you don’t usually have to think to do these manoeuvres, you just feel them and do them.”
“It’s not only scary and unnerving, it’s incredibly dangerous, even if you are doing basic gymnastics.”
One American gymnastic coach, Christina Myers, tried to push through a case of the ‘twisties’ in competition and it led to a spinal stress fracture, which forced her to stop competing.
Team GB Gymnast Claudia Fragapane suffered with a similar issue in the build up to the Olympic trials, and when she tried to push through, she landed on her head and neck on a landing and ended up in hospital.
Jacoby Miles suffered even worse. She suffered a case of the ‘twisties” and tried to push through it and landed on her neck and back so badly, she broke her neck and is now paralysed.
That’s a slightly different thing to missing a putt.
Simone Biles has achieved so much in her gymnastics career, performing moves that no other gymnast can perform. It is what has made her the greatest gymnast of all time.
But it should also be noted that she is just 24-years-old and has a long life ahead of her. Why should she risk that because a few unsympathetic people feel she bailed out on her team, without appreciating what it is she is going through?
Endemic Indifference To Mental Health
Part of the problem is that there is an endemic indifference to mental health issues throughout professional sport in general. There is an expectation that because an athlete is famous, well paid and competing at the highest level, that they should be able to deal with any mental issues they face without it affecting their performance.
And if it does, this is immediately looked upon negatively by many in the public, who will then accuse them of ‘quitting’ or similar.
With mental health issues very much at the forefront of sport at the moment, especially after Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon and now Simone Biles withdrawals at the Olympics, maybe now is the time to put these outdated idea of being a “quitter” to bed for good.
Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka deserve great credit for NOT trying to play through their mental health issues. They took the brave decision, the right decision for them and their loved ones for the long term and, in Biles’ case, the benefit of their teammates.
And if you think that is quitting, then it is your attitude that needs to change, not theirs.
Simone Biles was 100% right to withdraw as this Tweet beautifully explains.
You just evolved from another champion to an honest to God hero.
You just showed every young girl in America how to say, “No,”
You are not doing this with a lecture, you are showing by example with your actions.
You may not realize it for a few years, but you just saved lives. pic.twitter.com/cf7NAQ1KzZ
— Brad Norris (@EveryoneLies17) July 29, 2021
Simone Biles won bronze in the balance beam despite the “twisties” and the fact her aunt died two days before she competed in the event.
If that isn’t a hero, then I don’t know what is.