There is something horribly riveting about watching an athlete get the yips.

Witnessing someone who is amongst the very best in the world at their chosen discipline become unable to operate to even the standard of a junior athlete is fascinating spectacle and impossible to rip your eyes away from.

When it happened to Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics, just over two years ago, it was a case of the yips as severe and as shocking as they come.

The American is widely accepted to be one of, if not the single greatest gymnast ever to grace this planet.

Going into the 2020 Olympics, she was already a four-time Olympic gold medallist and nineteen-time world champion.

She was, unsurprisingly, the hot favourite to win at least a few more Olympic titles in Tokyo.

But, she got the yips. In gymnastics, it’s called the “twisties”, but it’s just a different name for the yips.

Despite a decent start to the 2020 Olympic Games – Biles helped the USA to team gold and in the process, qualified for all five individual finals – there was evidently, from the off, something not quite right with the American.

There were far more mistakes and much less perfection than we’d become accustomed to.

And then it became apparent the reason for Biles’ decline in performance; she had the yips.

In both her warm-up and in the competition proper, she balked mid-air during her vault, performing 1.5 twists rather than her planned 2.5 twists. And the yips started to creep in on several other pieces of apparatus too, which is far from ideal in a sport in which one mistake can have catastrophic consequences.

She subsequently withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics, saying she was putting her mental health first.The Herald: Simone Biles

I can’t have been the only one to think we’d seen the last of Biles at the very top of her sport. She was 24 years old which, in the sport of gymnastics, is approaching something considered elderly.

And it’s well-documented quite how difficult the yips are to overcome within sport.

The term “the yips” has been around for literally years.

It was coined by the golfer, Tommy Armour, almost a hundred years ago and since then, a surprisingly high number of elite athletes have suffered from this most debilitating of impediments.

The technical description of the yips is “a psycho-neuromuscular impediment interfering with the execution of fine-motor skills” and, when suffering from it, renders even the most proficient of athletes unable to perform the most basic skill.

And what’s so devastating about suffering from the yips is the fact there’s not a single evidence-based intervention that’s been proven to cure a case of it.

Despite manifesting as a physical issue, it clearly stems from the brain.

Biles, for example, physically, could perform the vault she was attempting perfectly; she’d done it for years. 

Similarly, others who’ve had a case of the yips have been impeded on the most basic of skills.

It prevails most commonly in golfers; amongst others, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Mark O’Meara, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson and perhaps most starkly, David Duval, who went from world number one to a PGA Tour outcast almost overnight thanks to a dose of the yips have all succumbed.

And it happens in other sports too; Stephan Hendry and Steve Davis in snooker, Eric Bristow in darts and countless baseball, basketball and NFL players have become victims.

Very few have recovered to be as good, or better, than they were before the yips hit.

Which is why Simone Biles’ 2023 World Championships campaign, which ends today, has been so remarkable.

These World Gymnastics Championships, in Antwerp, were Biles’ first appearance at the event in four years.

Having taken a significant break from the sport following her Tokyo 2020 nightmare, she returned to competition earlier this year.

There were many, myself included, who wondered if anyone, even someone as great as Biles, could banish the yips in a way so few have managed.

She’s answered the doubters in convincing fashion this week.

Not only has she picked up several medals, including gold – and there’s one day of competition left – she’s burst back onto the scene magnificently.

In becoming the first woman to successfully perform the Yurchenko double pike vault a few days ago, it’s been named after her, making it the fifth skill named after the American.

It was, objectively, a remarkable vault.

But what’s even more astonishing is what she’s overcome to return to this point.

Recovering from a physical injury in elite sport is hard, but recovering from a mental issue is almost always, so much harder.

That Biles has managed it proves, once more, what a unique athlete she is. 

And incidentally, for every person who claims women’s sport is less impressive then men’s sport, take one look at Biles and try to make that argument.



The news this week that the Cycling World Championships, which took place in Glasgow in August, have come in £8 million over budget is both disappointing and disheartening.

These World Championships were, for the ten days they took place, a spectacular event but by costing over £60 million have done nothing for the claim that hosting a major sporting event is good value for money.

The Herald: World Cycling Championships

These days, it’s unthinkable for any mega sporting event to take place without the added allure that there’ll be a lasting legacy

It’s what’s used to justify the exorbitant cost of hosting these events.

But when it comes in millions over budget, it, sadly, does little to convince the on-looking public that it’s good value for money.