Elite gymnasts say Simone Biles is lucky she didn't blow her knee on the vault - it takes Olympian skill to survive that error without injury

Elite gymnasts say Simone Biles is lucky she didn't blow her knee on the vault - it takes Olympian skill to survive that error without injury
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Simone Biles lands after her vault routine.
Simone Biles lands after her vault routine. AP Photo/Gregory Bull
  • Simone Biles' vault error was actually a near-miss, according to elite gymnasts.

  • Biles got lost in the air and still landed, a testament to her skill as an athlete.

  • "The twisties" cause disorientation and can be extremely dangerous to try to push through.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

When Simone Biles fumbled her landing in the vault - an event the athlete dubbed "the greatest of all time" prepared to take to new, dangerous level - most viewers saw just that: A fumbled landing.

But fellow Olympians and other elite gymnasts felt relief and awe that Biles landed at all. Anyone else in her position, they say, would have got injured at best, paralyzed at worst.

That's because she seemed to have the twisties, a frightening and dangerous phenomenon that helps explain why she bowed out of the team final and the all-around to focus on her mental well-being

Biles seemed to get lost in the air

Biles, the most accomplished athlete in gymnastics history, was expected to attempt a stunt involving 2.5 twists, but ended up doing 1.5, Biles' former teammate Laurie Hernandez said on Peacock.

"You see her head looking to the right, she's twisting to the right, it looked like she wanted to keep twisting but had opened up and gotten lost in the air," Hernandez said. "The fact that she landed while getting lost in the air is incredible."

Peacock TV producer and gymnastics videographer Deanna Hong wrote on Twitter that other elite gymnasts had similar reactions. One said they would have at least blown a knee, another said she'd probably have become paralyzed.

"It's not that she made a silly mistake and landed poorly - her mind & body betrayed her in the air while doing one of the hardest vaults in the world, and it's only due to her extreme athleticism that she was able to land safely," Hong wrote.

"The twisties" can affect gymnasts and divers, and take time to recover from

Biles said she'd experienced a bit of "the twisties" in practice, or essentially getting lost in the air because the body and brain aren't communicating perfectly. Without Biles' typically top-notch proprioception, a sense of where your body is in space, gymnasts crash, CNN's Elle Reeve, a former competitive gymnast, reported.

Swiss gymnast Giulia Steingruber said she also got the twisties in vault 2014. "When I wanted to twist, especially on vault ... I had no feeling where I am. I was really scared," Steingruber said in a 2016 documentary.

Biles' teammates were reportedly really scared for her too when they saw her disoriented in the vault. "She was giving us a heart attack," Jordan Chiles said, according to Washington Post Sports Reporter Emily Giambalvo.

Hence the widespread support among athletes for her decision to take some time off: If she competes again too soon, the consequence could be much worse than missing a medal.

British gymnast Claudia Fragapane, who competed at the Rio Olympics in 2016, told the BBC she could "understand exactly how Simone was feeling." Fragapane fell in two qualifying events and again after a "mental block," leading to a head injury. She didn't make the cut for Tokyo.

"It's really dangerous if you doubt yourself a little bit, or you find it really hard, you can really really hurt yourself," Fragapane said. "I've been in her shoes and I ended up hurting myself."

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