With renewed confidence and Simone Biles as her training colleague, Jordan Chiles is ready to join the Olympic team
Jordan Chiles was just kidding when she first spoke to Simone Biles about switching gyms and joining her at the World Champions Center in Spring, Texas.
But the more they talked about it, the more the Chileans couldn’t stop thinking about it.
She enjoyed training at Naydenov Gymnastics in her hometown of Vancouver, Washington, but she also felt like she was outside, looking out at an Olympic team pitch.
She wanted in. Quite pure.
In October 2018, the two were then assigned as roommates for the week at the World Cup team tests.
“I told her, ‘I think I’ll do it. I’m ready now,'” said Chiles. “Simone said, ‘This is a big deal, are you sure?’ But I knew that it was me and that I had to change something. “
Chiles loved training at her hometown gym but was the only elite female gymnast. The opportunity to train with Biles was too good to pass up. AP Photo / Charlie Riedel
Chiles didn’t make it to the World Cup, but they returned home with a new plan. In June, just weeks after walking across the stage and graduating from high school, she moved to Texas.
Two years later, she believes it is one of the best decisions she has made. With new coaches and the best gymnast of all time as a training colleague, she does better than ever.
At the Winter Cup in February – the first major US competition since the beginning of the pandemic – the 20-year-old caused a sensation by winning the all-around, vault and floor titles. Then she finished second in the all-around at the US Classic last month.
“Jordan has improved significantly, both mentally and physically, since arriving at the WCC,” said Biles. “It was exciting to see her growing up and down in the gym. I see her pushing herself every day which is inspiring. She sacrificed so much for her dreams. “
Chile was once a front runner in one of the four Olympic team courses for Tokyo – and will be one of the most watched gymnasts at the US Championships this weekend in Fort Worth, Texas.
In the world of elite gymnastics, Chile has always gone its own way. While most of her peers took their first tumbling classes as toddlers, Chiles didn’t hit the gym until she was seven. And even then, she didn’t quite understand what she was seeing.
“I thought it was like a trampoline park,” she said. “All the girls were doing flips and stuff and I thought it looked like fun.”
But her attitude changed a few months later when she saw the 2008 Olympics on television. She loved the entire American team but was impressed by Shawn Johnson. Her tiny but muscular stature and her powerful tumbling reminded Chiles of herself.
It made her realize that she could also compete at the highest level. Chiles remembers waiting what seemed like hours in an autograph queue at a Nike store in Seattle shortly after the games. She finally had the chance to meet the four-time medalist – and says her smile never faded that day.
11 years ago, as a little girl, I stood in line to meet you. One day your baby will know how much you inspired girls like me (with big muscles and strength) to dream. Congratulations @ShawnJohnson & @AndrewDEast. pic.twitter.com/0TPvrwoLWr
– Jordan Chiles (@ChilesJordan) November 5, 2019
An enthusiastic Chilean then committed herself to her new goal of one day becoming an Olympian. She made rapid progress. It only took her three years to reach level 10, the highest level before elite. There was nothing unusual about her rapid rise to the gymnastics ranks. Until she was invited to her first national team camp as a young gymnast.
“I didn’t really understand what elite was until then,” she said. “I just thought it was another level, but when I walked in and saw Kyla, [Ross] and Aly [Raisman]’I just thought,’ Oh my god, I’m with the big girls. What am I doing here? Am I going to the Olympics? That’s crazy.'”
Chiles didn’t go to London with Ross and Raisman in 2012, of course, and she wasn’t fit for the 2016 Rio squad either, but the closeness of the gymnasts she admired was a constant motivation.
When Chiles was finally old enough to make her senior debut, it was breathtaking. She ranked runner-up in just her second Seniors Meeting in 2017 for U.S. Citizens, and immediately became a fan favorite when she creatively rescued a runaway wolf on the beam by turning it into a triple twist.
The next year in March Chile finished third at a World Cup event in Stuttgart and won gold medals in jumping and on the ground at the Pacific Rim Championships in April. But their momentum began to fizzle out during the summer national competitions, with 8th and 11th places overall in Classics and Nationals. And she wasn’t called to the world team in the fall.
“I felt like I was nobody and nobody knew who I was,” she said. “I started to ask, ‘Do I even have to do this sport?’ After this [national] Championships, I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was thinking about leaving the elite and relegating to level 10 and then going to college and enjoying my college career. But my family said, ‘No, you can do that’ and Simone was so supportive and encouraging. And to get that from her, this great Olympic athlete, was a great honor and a great help in getting me through. “
When Chile’s own trainer Dimitri Taskov, with whom she had trained from the start, told her he didn’t think he could get her any further in the sport, she knew it was time to take Bile’s offer.
Biles had recruited Cecile and Laurent Landi, the former coaches of their Olympic teammate Madison Kocian, to lead the women’s program at the WCC. Olympic substitute and world champion Ashton Locklear also trained with them at the time, so Chiles knew there was no shortage of daily inspiration. Taking a leap of faith, she left everything she knew in Washington and moved to Texas with only her mother in tow. Her father stayed in Washington, as did her four adult siblings.
She considered Biles to be a friend, but was immediately surprised at how encouraging everyone was from the moment she walked in the door.
“The experience of [training with Biles] Playing in the gym and being their teammate is definitely a game changer, “Chiles said.” I’ve never had a teammate before and when I went there I thought, ‘Whoa, it’s like having teammates? That’s cool.
“It’s a different kind of energy than you see in most gyms. We all laugh, we tell jokes, we hug and give each other high fives and fist bumps and it gets us through the tough days. We all want to push each other to do our best. “
The atmosphere is wanted. Biles has long been known for their cheerful attitude, and Cecile and Laurent Landi believe that a supportive environment creates happier, more productive gymnasts and people. Her methods have been successful so far, with currently four WCC gymnasts in the 19-man national team.
In a sport that sometimes struggles with diversity, Chile’s attention has also not escaped the fact that it has many black teammates – and role models.
“I got into the sport when I was younger and there obviously weren’t many African Americans in the gymnastics world,” she said. “It feels like the world has changed when it comes to the diversity aspect and I’m impressed.”
Chiles originally thought she would have a year at her new gym to prepare for her Olympic quest, but it turned into two when the Olympics were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. She was supposed to join the UCLA team in 2019, but now she has shifted again.
The pandemic kept her and her teammates out of the gym for seven weeks – an eternity to get away from exercising – but she did her best to stay motivated and in shape with conditioning workouts via Zoom and other workouts she suggested for home trainers.
When they returned to the gym, Chile continued to thrive.
“I think the goal of all gymnasts is to get as close to Simone as possible,” said Cecile, “but cheer for Simone and help and even give her advice, but also show everyone here that it is humanly possible to have some very tough skills is inspiring. “
At the Winter Cup in February, Chiles wasn’t sure how they would fare after such a long hiatus, but was just excited to have the opportunity.
When she hit the ground for her first event, everything just clicked. She was instantly focused, but also surprised at how much she enjoyed every moment. She didn’t allow herself to look at the scoreboard – something she’d been paying attention to – and when she climbed the bar for her final event, she had no idea that she had a chance of winning the all-around title.
Her 14.5 shared the highest score of the day on the bar and gave her the all-round title with a full 1.95 ahead of second-placed Shilese Jones. Chiles was also victorious on the vault and on the ground. (Biles decided to skip the event but watched from home and emailed her saying she was “SO excited” for Chiles.)
“She knew she could do it,” said Cecile. “And we were just so happy that she could finally put all the pieces together at once and for the most part prove to herself that she could, but also to show others that ‘Count me, I’ll be a part’ for that I will fight [an Olympic spot]. ‘ It gave her such a boost and the confidence she needed. “
Armed with her newfound confidence, Chiles finished second in the star-studded US Classic last month, just behind Biles. National team coordinator Tom Forster, who ultimately has the last word in the Olympic squad, was impressed by her performance.
“She took full advantage of it [the time off during the pandemic]”he said after the meeting.” I really think she’s a very different athlete now than she was in 2018. It’s exciting to see.
Still, Chile knows that with so many talented women and a highly subjective selection process, nothing is guaranteed. Only four will make up the final team, and two can earn individual spots (Jade Carey has already qualified for such a spot). From that point on, every single event, every single moment counts. Chiles tries not to leave anything to chance but will take pride in themselves no matter what.
“I know I can [make the Olympic team]”said Chiles.” When I think about everything I’ve been through and now that I am, I feel so confident and enjoy doing what I love. When I was younger I felt like I had to prove something to the world, but now I’m only doing it for myself. “