As hard as it was to watch Simone Biles struggle before withdrawing from five events during the Tokyo Olympics, it was even more devastating for her behind the scenes.
The superstar gymnast shared an emotional look at the anguish she endured away from the arena in Tokyo between mental health struggles and her hardship with "the twisties," a phenomenon when gymnasts are in midair and lose awareness of where they are in the skill, making it difficult to land safely.
In the newest episode of her Facebook Watch show, "Simone vs Herself," Biles shares her fears in a tearful video from her hotel room on July 27, the day the most decorated gymnast of all time stunningly withdrew from the team finals following a shaky performance on the vault.
"So, having these mental blocks in the gym recently, it’s not been fun, it’s been scary. I’m getting lost in my skills. I’m so prepared that I don’t know if I’m overthinking, but it’s getting to the point where it’s becoming dangerous," she says while wiping away tears. "And it’s like it could happen any other time, I don’t get why it happens at the Olympics."
She then describes the issue that led her to withdraw from all but one event in Tokyo.
"In gym we call it 'the twisties,'" she says. "Should be a better word because it sucks to have them for anybody. And then I’m starting to get, like, mental blocks where I don’t want to go for the skill because I’m afraid I’m going to get hurt because I’m not doing the correct flip."
Biles, 24, feared for her physical safety if she tried to fight through it.
"It’s like at this point, I don’t know what to do because it’s too dangerous to do, and you can’t change the routines," she says. "So I’m just going to have to see. Trying to keep it together, but, like, I don’t know, I’m so confused."
She also spoke in that interview about her experience with the twisties.
"If I still had my air awareness, and I just was having a bad day, I would have continued,” Biles told the magazine. “But it was more than that.
“It’s so dangerous. It’s basically life or death. It’s a miracle I landed on my feet. If that was any other person, they would have gone out on a stretcher. As soon as I landed that vault, I went and told my coach: ‘I cannot continue.’”
The new episode of "Simone vs Herself" also offers an ominous foreshadowing to Biles' struggles in Tokyo with a behind-the-scenes look at her struggles at the U.S. Olympic trials.
She talks about the pressure of the U.S. gymnastics team defending its gold medal in Tokyo and how she has been built up as one of the biggest stars of the Olympics.
"We have a lot to live up to," she says, adding, "A lot of it feels like on me."
Biles' experience in Tokyo brought athletes' mental health to the forefront, as she was honest about the difficulties she faced physically and emotionally.
“We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we’re human, too,” Biles said during a press conference in Tokyo. “We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”