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Simone Biles Explained Exactly What Happened During Her "Petrifying" Vault After Previously Saying She Could "Literally Die" If It Went Wrong

"What's even scarier is since I have no idea where I am in the air I also have NO idea how I'm going to land. Or what I'm going to land on. Head/hands/feet/back…"

Posted on July 30, 2021, at 7:23 a.m. ET

Simone Biles is being open and honest about her reasons for withdrawing from the women's gymnastics all-around final, explaining in terrifying detail what happened and why it was no longer safe for her to compete.

Loic Venance / AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this week, the 24-year-old pulled out of the team finals when a "petrifying" vault went wrong, leaving Biles lucky to escape without serious injury.

Jean Catuffe / Getty Images

In the first rotation of the competition on Tuesday, Biles went to do a vault with 2.5 twists but, appearing dazed and disoriented as she flipped in the air, seemed to bail on the skill midway through. Instead, she completed 1.5 twists and nearly fell upon landing. The vault received the lowest score of the rotation, 13.766 — a huge drop from her average score of 16.050 for the same event during the previous Olympics.

Soon after, Biles left the competition floor before it was officially announced that she had withdrawn from the event altogether. She only returned to the arena to cheer on her teammates, who eventually went on to win the silver medal, from the sidelines. 

It was then later announced that Biles would be withdrawing from the individual all-around final, an event she'd qualified in first place for and had been the favorite to win as the reigning Olympic champion.

Jamie Squire / Getty Images

"After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, in order to focus on her mental health," USA Gymnastics said in a statement. "Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week's individual event finals.

"We wholeheartedly support Simone's decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many."

However, the severity of Biles's shaky vault that saw her withdraw from two Olympic finals wasn't initially clear to the untrained eye, and it was only later explained just how serious the situation had been.

Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Biles later told reporters that she'd been "having a little bit of the twisties," a term used to explain a mental block that can appear out of nowhere and make a gymnast lose their sense of direction or where they are in the air or perform an extra twist. Experiencing this block while flipping and twisting in the air leaves a gymnast blind to their surroundings, unable to figure out where the ground is and how to land safely.

Former gymnasts explained just how bad the vault could've ended, telling Deanna Hong, a producer for Golden: The Journey of USA's Elite Gymnasts, that it could've led to serious injury.

"One former US elite gymnast I talked to said that if it was someone other than Simone Biles who had made that same error, they would have certainly blown a knee, at minimum," Hong tweeted. "Another said if it had happened to her instead of Simone, 'I probably would have ended up paralyzed.'"

Other gymnasts tried to explain "twisties" with videos, showing how the mental block can affect skills they've been perfecting for years.

Here’s an example of a mental block for anybody who has no idea. This one was safe and quite honestly funny to watch, but that’s because I didn’t land head first

Another gymnast, who said they'd experienced the mental block since they were 11, explained how the sudden instinct to twist can affect even the most basic of moves, writing: "There was a point in time where I couldn't even do a back roll without wanting to turn my head to twist."

Another said: "I couldn't and still can barely do a straight jump on a trampoline."

Biles herself opened up about what had happened during the vault and her current state of mind, revealing that she's still experiencing the twisties but is practicing ahead of the four Olympic finals she's currently scheduled to compete in.

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In a Q&A on Instagram, Biles said that the mental block "randomly started happening" the morning after her prelim event. Explaining why she didn't let an alternate gymnast take her place in the team event, she revealed that it wasn't within the rules to replace an athlete after prelims and qualifications had already been completed, leaving her with no choice.

She said: "I warmed up in the back gym 'ok-ish.' I was fighting demons but I did it. Petrified too."

"I didn't have a bad performance and quit. I've had plenty of bad performances throughout my career and finished the competition," Biles went on. "I simply got so lost my safety was at risk as well as a team medal."

Martin Bureau / AFP via Getty Images

"I also have no idea how I landed on my feet on that vault because if you look at the pictures and my eyes you can see how confused I am as to where I am in the air," she continued. "Thankfully I landed safe enough but I also don't think some of you realize I was supposed to do a 2 ½ and I only completed 1 ½ twists before it looks like I got shot out of the air."

"I have experienced [the twisties] before," she added. "They're not fun to deal with. It's honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind and body in sync."

Explaining how the twisties can make a gymnast feel in the moment, Biles said that it's impossible to tell where you are in the air or how you're going to land.

Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

"Literally can not tell up from down. It's the craziest feeling ever," she explained. "Not having an inch of control over your body. What's even scarier is since I have no idea where I am in the air I also have NO idea how I'm going to land. Or what I'm going to land on. Head/hands/feet/back…"

Biles went on to post videos of herself in practice after the withdrawal, showing that she was still experiencing the mental block and had yet to fully regain the skills she'd planned on performing in the coming events.

.@Simone_Biles shared footage of herself at practice in #Tokyo this morning via Instagram, still struggling to find herself in the air. The 🐐 also took the time to further communicate the severity of her condition to the world.

Twitter: @Gymnastics_Now

Biles qualified for the finals in all four individual events, the first of which just so happens to be vault. It's still unconfirmed if the 24-year-old will compete in all, some, or none of the finals.

All of this comes after a resurfaced video appeared online showing Biles explaining how the flips that she performs could have dire consequences if they go wrong.

oop I found it. “don’t bail, or you will literally die” she made the right choice for herself and for her team #SimoneBiles https://t.co/T6a2yrLz8y

In the interview, she says: "Sometimes going into [a skill], I'm like, 'Don't bail — you'll literally die. Like, you will break something.'"

But Biles isn't letting her situation stop her from supporting her fellow gymnasts, appearing in the crowd to cheer them on during the all-around final and celebrating the eventual gold-medal win of teammate Sunisa Lee.

"CONGRATS PRINCESS!" Biles wrote on Instagram. "Absolutely killed it!!! OLYMPIC CHAMPION RIGHT HERE!!! So so so beyond proud of you!!!!"

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.