This image shows a CT scan of a contortionist, not a gymnast.
This is a genuine X-Ray (or more accurately a CT scan) of a person in a seemingly uncomfortable position. This image has nothing to do with the 2020 Olympics, however, and it does not show a gymnast in the middle of a stunt.
This image shows contortionist Irene Betti and was first popularized when it posted to the website of a Contortion Amsterdam, a stretching studio in the Netherlands. The studio writes on its website:
Contortion Amsterdam in Amsterdam is one of the few places in Europe who offers stretching on a professional level. Not only contortionists but also dancers, gymnasts and performers visit me for a professional stretch. Performers from the Cirque du Soleil and other International performers are regular visitors of my studio for maintaining and developing their flexibility.
But also amateurs do their first steps here to a possible professional carrier. Or they just train for fun because flexibility feels so good. I train amateur pole dancers, contortionists, (silk) aerialists and more. Because of my knowledge of stretching techniques and intensive personal support, my clients are always happily surprised by the fast results.
This image is no longer available on Contortion Amsterdam’s website, and we have not been able to find any archived versions. However, a slightly different version of this image has also been posted to the studio’s Facebook page:
The image has been going around for years. In 2018, it was posted to Reddit along with some now-defunct links back to Contortion Amsterdam’s websites. While those links are no longer operational, the Reddit post included the caption that supposedly accompanied this image:
One of my students in the scanner doing a ‘head to butt’ backbend. Notice that a significant part of the spine does not bend. The biggest angle in the back is where lumbar vertebra go over in the thoracic vertebra. The biggest bend is in the cervical vertebrae, the neck. The secret of a successful backbend lies in a supple neck.
Other postings of this image identified the featured contortionist as “Irene Betti.”
We reached out to Betti and she confirmed that she is the contortionist in this image. Betti couldn’t remember the specific details about the image, but said that it was taken by Michel Ritz, a French physiotherapist who studies contortionists. Betti said (translated via Google and edited for clarity):
Ciao sì sono io. È un immagine di lavoro del medico Michel Ritz, è un fisioterapia Francese che ha approfondito gli studi sul contorsionisti.
Hi yes it’s me. It is a professional image of the doctor Michel Ritz, he is a French physiotherapy who has deepened his studies on contortionists.
We found another photograph of Betti in a similar position to the pose shown in the CT scan image.
Here’s a video of Betti performing in 2012:
This image truly shows a CT scan of a contortionist in a position that would be, for lack of a better word, awkward for most people.