Today we look back to a headline from eight months ago. The reactions have all settled down, but there is still instruction to be gained from considering Simone Biles’ decisions at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Biles, arguably the greatest female gymnast ever, withdrew from certain of her scheduled events after experiencing a psychological phenomenon called “the twisties,” and citing mental health issues.
It is one sign of her dominance in her field that certain quite difficult elements in floor, vault, and balance beam events are named after Simone Biles, so that one hears experts speaking of the “Biles on beam, Biles on Vault, and Biles II on floor.” The Biles on beam, for example, is a dismount double-twisting, double tucked salto backwards.
In Tokyo, during warm-ups for the team final, Biles balked on her Amanar vault mid-air, performing 1.5 twists instead of the expected 2.5. In the competition she did the same, and nearly fell on the landing. She withdrew from most of the events in her sport that followed. Largely due to this, the U.S. team received a silver medal instead of the expected gold in the sport.
In Pill Form:
The Latin phrase for an old Roman ideal is “mens sana in corpore sano,” a healthy mind in a healthy body. In terms of that ideal, Biles’ famously agile performance in competitions since her international debut in 2013 certainly suggest that her body is healthy. But she had to determine that the health of her mind needed a break at a moment when the whole world was watching. She is the only final judge of that need.