She Owes Us Nothing

30 July 2021


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Simone Biles and the Twisties


That headline is not the name of a justly forgotten new wave band from 1986. Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time, and she has rocked the sporting world and the commentariat by withdrawing from the Olympic team competition. She may also drop out of the individual apparatus competitions. She says she has the "twisties," which in other sports is known as the "yips." Caused by over-thinking, high-level pressure and/or other psychological issues, these are the brain failing to do its job during the activity in question. In some sports, the athlete just doesn't win as a result. In gymnastics, death is a genuine risk. Those criticizing Ms. Biles simply don't know what they are talking about.

Any golfer who has spent any time at all trying to putt has run across the yips, if not personally, most certainly within one's foursome. The three-foot putt starts to look like it is 30-feet, and there is no comfortable way to hold the club. Even before the back-swing begins, one knows the ball is not going into the hole.

In baseball, this condition is universally known as the "Steve Sax Syndrome." Mr. Sax played second base for the Los Angeles Dodgers (known as the only team that matters, or God's Team). In the 1983 season, he suddenly developed a problem making the throw to first base. For non-baseball fans, the distance between the bases is 90 feet, and the throw a second baseman has to make to first is more like 40-60 feet. This is a thrown 8-year-old kids make easily in Little League.

In 1983, Mr. Sax made 30 errors, most throwing to first. When outfielder Pedro Guerrero had to play third owing to injuries, he said his first thought was "I hope they don't hit it to me," and his second was "I hope they don't hit it to Sax." By 1989, Mr. Sax was cured, leading the American League as a Yankee (Satan's team) in fielding per centage and double plays.

In the case of a golfer or a second baseman, the condition means poor performance. The average duffer on a golf course with a bad case of the yips will probably have to buy a round of drinks after missing a few putts. Mr. Sax's performance in 1983 was not the end of the world, as the Dodgers wound up playing for the National League title against Philadelphia (losing unfortunately). It just made him look bad.

Gymnastics is a much more dangerous sport than golf, and may well be more dangerous than baseball. The human body was not designed for flight, and that is the beauty of the sport. Humans fly if only for a moment or two. As with any flight, though, there is the risk of a crash landing. Elena Mukhina, a Soviet gymnast, was paralyzed as the result of a bad landing, as was American Julissa Gomez in 1988. Both died young as a result of their injuries.

Critics of Ms. Biles have opined that she should just "suck it up." Others stated that she let her teammates down. Still others complained that she let her country down. None of these seem to have considered that there was a serious physical risk for failure and that the twisties increase that risk many fold. "Sucking it up" would be a great solution if it were as easy as that. As for letting her teammates down, frankly, the US women's gymnastics team and program get more out of Ms. Biles than she got out of them. The accusation that she let the country down is laughable. She is the greatest gymnast and she owes America nothing, certainly not after the Rio Olympics.

The simple truth is that the twisties is a very real condition that can result in serious injury and possibly even death. A shot at an Olympic medal is poor compensation for running such a risk.

© Copyright 2021 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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