16 Feb Jade Carey | From Olympic Gold to Orange and Black | Inside Gymnastics
Jade Carey | From Olympic Gold to Orange and Black
By Ashlee Buhler
It’s fair to say Jade Carey isn’t your typical college student.
In the span of six months she traveled to Tokyo to fulfill her biggest dream, came home with an Olympic gold medal, toured the country as part of the 35-stop Gold Over America tour, while simultaneously taking online classes at Oregon State University, where her arrival on campus was long anticipated! That’s more than most people will do in their entire lifetime and some days, Carey said, it still hasn’t fully sunk in.
You could ask any elite-level athlete if they dreamed about the Olympics as a kid and the answer would likely always be the same. Of course they did!
But for Carey it wasn’t that straightforward.
“I think when I was little I didn’t totally understand how it all worked,” Carey said. “I, of course, watched the 2008 Olympics on TV as a little girl and said, ‘I want to do that.’ But I never actually grasped what it actually meant.”
Elite gymnastics wasn’t always in the cards for Carey. She committed to Oregon State when she was 14 years-old and was set to begin her college gymnastics career in the fall of 2017. Suddenly everything changed when she was noticed by national team staff at the 2016 J.O. National Championships and was invited to a U.S. national team camp. The rest is history.
At 17, Carey made her elite gymnastics debut, became the U.S. National vault champion, made the U.S. World Championships team, and won two silver medals on her signature events—vault and floor. Carey was committed to a new goal—training for the Tokyo Olympics—and decided to defer her enrollment at Oregon State in pursuit of it. She never looked back.
“I did do things very differently but I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Carey said. “I feel like it helped me out to go into the elite world later because I didn’t get burned out as quickly.”
Carey forged her own path to Tokyo. Instead of putting her fate in the hands of the selection committee, she clinched her spot to the Games as an individual athlete by winning the FIG World Cup series on vault. So while the rest of Team USA battled for their spots at the Olympic Trials, Carey could relax a tiny bit; taking full advantage of the final opportunity to perform her routines on the competition floor one last time before boarding the plane for Tokyo.
At the Olympics, many fans’ predictions had Simone Biles and Jade Carey on the medal podium on vault and floor. Those predictions were affirmed when the pair qualified first and second into those finals. However, what nobody could have predicted was Biles withdrawing from nearly every final she qualified for due to her mind and body working against each other at the worst possible time.
Suddenly, Carey found herself competing in her first major international All-Around final, and a favorite for gold on vault and floor. A fall on beam kept Carey from having a shot at the All-Around podium. And in the vault final, things didn’t go as planned either. On her first vault, which was supposed to be a Cheng, Carey tripped on her run and was only able to manage a Yurchenko tucked. In a matter of seconds, a fluke accident ended her medal chances on vault. And within 24 hours, she was expected back on the competition floor for the floor finals.
“After vault I was a bit of a disaster,” Carey said. “It was really hard for me but I just had to really think about how I still had a chance to accomplish my goals. So I had to just put it behind me and not really think about it. My teammates were great and just helped me leave it in the past for the time being.”
Some may have wallowed in their sadness at the missed opportunity for an Olympic medal, but not Jade Carey. A message from her father, Brian, who also happens to be her coach, was the final push she needed to turn her mindset around.
“My dad told me on the morning of floor finals, ‘Yesterday may have felt like the worst day of your life, but we can make today the best.’ So I just really had to focus on the fact that I had one more chance,” Carey said.
With a look of steely assurance in her eyes, Carey was ready for redemption. She performed the most difficult tumbling being done in the competition (6.3 D) with her usual calm and cool demeanor. Her tumbling was powerful and precise, leaving little to deduct on the landings. Once the score for the final gymnast was posted, the feelings of disappointment from the day prior were replaced with feelings of pride, joy, and Olympic gold.
“It definitely felt like everything I had ever worked for was worth it,” Carey said. “My dream of being in the Olympics came true, but not only that, winning a medal! It was the most special feeling in the world.”
Just four years prior, hardly anybody knew her name. Now, she’s forever an Olympic champion—and perhaps the most famous student walking around Corvallis. “Sometimes I forget that people know,” Carey said of being recognized on campus. “But it’s really cool to see.”
It would be quite hard not to know Carey’s name these days. Not only did she win gold on the sport’s biggest, most prestigious stage, but she’s already stamping her name in the Oregon State history books. In only her second collegiate competition, Carey posted the highest All-Around score in program history (39.800), topping Chari Knight’s 39.750 from 1993. In the first five weeks of competition, Carey didn’t lose a single All-Around or event title, and also never scored below 9.9.
She appears to have handled the transition to college seamlessly, although training for the Olympics is a lot different than training in college. Not only is she training less hours each day, but her routines are much shorter, which Carey said took some time to adjust to.
“It was just something I had to get used to,” Carey said. “It was a challenge because I’m focusing on the execution, sticking landings, and making everything perfect, where in Elite it was all about, ‘how hard can you make these routines?’”
Yet in college, Carey hasn’t shied away from doing some of the most difficult skills being done in the nation. At the college level, few gymnasts have competed skills such a Yurchenko double twist on vault, a Bhardwaj on bars, and a double double on floor, but Carey does them all. It’s not all that surprising considering she used to throw triple doubles into a pit for the sake of bettering her air awareness to make her double double easier. (We’ll never forget when Carey left us in awe after landing a laid out triple double in podium training at the 2021 U.S. Championships. Carey said she wanted to do the skill in Tokyo to get it named after her, but opted to play it safe while dealing with an ankle injury.)
Carey has the difficult skills down, and so far, she hasn’t struggled with the perfection aspect of college either, with a perfect 10 on bars and floor already in her back pocket.
However, that kind of success doesn’t come without added pressure to maintain expectations, whether it’s expectations she sets for herself or ones that outsiders place on her. Carey admits she feels it at times. “I definitely do feel like there’s a little bit of pressure,” Carey said. “Honestly, most of it comes from myself just because I want to do so well.”
Carey keeps herself grounded and relieves some of the pressure by focusing on having fun with her team and enjoying the college experience. She doesn’t quite have it all figured out yet, such as what she wants to study: “That’s a good question,” Carey said with a laugh when asked. Right now she’s thinking Kinesiology or Business—but there’s still plenty of time to figure that out.
“I’m really enjoying having more of a normal, college lifestyle,” Carey said. “And also I’ve really been enjoying being in the gym with the team. There’s so much energy in the gym and in competitions it’s just really nice to have a team that has your back no matter what you do.”
With Carey’s success in Tokyo came questions about her future plans. Would she still go to Oregon State? But there was never a doubt in Carey’s mind. She fell in love with Oregon State when she visited as a teenager and pushed her enrollment date back four years to compete in Tokyo. When all was said and done, Corvallis still had Carey’s heart. And if she needed any confirmation, it came the moment she stepped into a packed Gill Coliseum for the first time wearing orange and black.
“I had been looking forward to coming here for so long, so I was super excited to get out in Gill and compete with my team,” Carey said, adding: “The coaches are a big reason why I wanted to come here. I knew that they were going to be the perfect fit for me and care about me not only as a gymnast, but as a person as well.”
In years past, a lot of Olympic gold medalists didn’t do college gymnastics because they couldn’t do endorsement deals and compete. They were often faced with the difficult decision of picking just one: potentially hundreds of thousands in sponsorships and endorsement deals or a free college education and four more years doing the sport they love.
Carey is a part of this first generation of athletes who can do both thanks to the name, image, and likeness rules that went into effect July 1, 2021. Although Carey believes she still would have wound up at Oregon State either way, she’s thankful for the opportunity to do both. “I know for myself and a lot of us, we’re really grateful that we get to have the opportunity to get the best of worlds,” she said.
Already having achieved so much in the sport, Carey really wants to soak in every moment of these next four years with her team. She doesn’t set individual goals, she is simply focused on helping her team reach its full potential. The goal is to be confident and get a little bit better each week. And wherever that takes them–she’s happy with it.
As for the question everyone wants to know an answer to: Is 2024 in the back of her mind?
“Right now,” Carey said with a sly smile. “I’m really just focusing on my college career.”
Photos by Oregon State Athletics; Lloyd Smith and Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics