By Ashlee Buhler for Inside Gymnastics
From a young age, it was evident that Jordan Chiles had a lot of talent—the kind of talent that eventually lands a kid on an Olympic team.
In elite gymnastics, making the Olympic team is a years long journey that often includes winning national titles, multiple World Championship appearances, and increased media exposure as the Games get closer. However, for Chiles, the pathway has not been that straightforward.
At the start of the Olympic cycle, Chiles placed second All-Around at the 2017 U.S. Championships, her very first championships as a senior. But when all was said and done, she was left off the World Championship team.
The next year she made her international debut at the Stuttgart World Cup where she finished third All-Around, followed by the Pacific Rim Championships where she brought home three gold medals (team, vault, and floor). However, when it came to naming the 2018 World Championship team, Chiles was once again left off.
Chiles knew if she wanted to reach her full potential, it was time to make a change. So, in 2019 she packed her bags and moved over 2,000 miles away to Spring, Texas to train alongside Simone Biles at her family’s world-class training facility, World Champions Centre.
With all eyes on Biles, Chiles worked equally as hard in the gym to refine her skills, but in the end, it wasn’t quite enough to make the World Championships team that year. For Chiles, being left off the Worlds team for the third consecutive year was a hard pill to swallow.
“I wouldn’t say it affected my confidence, but I did feel disappointed and hurt,” Chiles said. “I always felt ready, but I guess others felt it wasn’t the right time.”
So while other gymnasts had the spotlight and were being placed on the projected Olympic teams of fans around the world, Chiles worked harder than ever in the gym; not letting any past disappointments hold her back.
As it would turn out, the move to WCC did wonders for Chiles—not only for her gymnastics—but for her confidence.
“Having elite teammates and the proper coaching just clicked for me,” Chiles said. “Not being the only person doing what you do has been amazing.”
Having the world’s greatest gymnast as your training partner and friend doesn’t hurt either.
“Simone is my best friend and sister,” Chiles said. “She understands me. And it’s amazing to train with her because she motivates everyone to be better.”
The Tokyo Olympics have remained at the forefront of Chiles’ mind and have also served as her biggest source of motivation to keep pushing when things don’t go her way. However, a wrist injury that required surgery in October of 2019 almost threw a wrench in her plans completely.
“The recovery took four weeks longer than we thought, so 10 weeks total,” Chiles said. “I gained my skills back pretty quick, but bars were a struggle. I was feeling unprepared, and I worried that I wouldn’t be recovered and ready in time.”
For Chiles, perhaps the biggest blessing in disguise ended up being the additional year of training resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Olympic postponement. For the gymnasts who were healthy and prepared to peak in 2020, pushing through the extra year could be seen as a major obstacle. But for an athlete like Chiles, that extra year may have been exactly what she needed to make her lifelong dream come true.
“Having the extra year made a huge difference for me,” Chiles said. “I am not going to lie, it was hard to hear that the Olympics got postponed but it ended up helping me.”
Chiles made a big statement when she stepped onto the competition floor for the first time in over a year at the Winter Cup. The All-Around, vault, and floor titles—as well as a silver on beam—served as a friendly and very important reminder not to forget her name. At the GK U.S. Classic, Chiles proved Winter Cup wasn’t a fluke—this time finishing second in the All-Around to Biles. And in the Simone Biles era—silver is just as good as gold!
“I have had a great couple of meets,” Chiles said. “But I’m just trying to stay focused on myself and what I have to do when I step out onto the competition floor. Being prepared has helped my confidence, so I have to give credit to my coaches for that.”
As she prepares for the U.S. Championships, Chiles can no longer be overlooked. Her consistency and confidence coupled with her hard-working attitude, may just be exactly what team USA needs in Tokyo. And despite all the setbacks, in a matter of just two months, what started as a childhood dream could finally come to fruition—it’s looking more and more realistic.
“It is such a crazy feeling and sometimes I don’t even know how to act,” Chiles said. “It doesn’t feel real, but I’m excited to see where it goes.”
For now, she’s taking things one day at a time. “I used to think about [the Olympics] everyday, but now if I think about it too much it makes me nervous,” Chiles said. “So I just stay focused on what I am doing day to day.”
The biggest tests are still ahead. Up first comes the U.S. Championships in Fort Worth this week, followed by the Olympic Trials in St. Louis. The game plan for Chiles’ remains quite simple: “I want to fix all the little details and make sure to keep the same mindset.”
Nothing more. Nothing less. And if she does that—Jordan Chiles just might realize her Olympic dream.
Photo credits: Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics and John Cheng
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