Gymnast Jordan Chiles Set for Stellar Return at U.S. Championships

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In Fort Worth, Texas, gymnastic maestro Jordan Chiles has the chance to sidestep this. She’s no stranger to validation; her arm glistens with an indelible statement of her triumphs, her trophy room rustles quietly with the echoes of countless accolades and her thriving social platforms are dusted with dazzling brand affiliations and enchanting life moments that were once but mere dreams to her.

Fast forward nearly three years since the eventful summer of 2021. That time around, Chiles had conjured up extraordinarily pulsating gymnastics, which earned her a coveted spot on the Olympic team. The venture was beautifully rewarded with a gleaming silver medal from Tokyo, along with a scholarship tucked neatly in her back pocket from the prestigious University of California, Los Angeles, rounded off with a generous splash of fame. Now, she is in a poised state of readiness for a second swoop at the grandest platform her sport can offer.

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Come Friday night, Chiles is slated to grace the floor at the U.S. Championships, riding high on the back of a promising third-place finish during the U.S. Classic just a fortnight ago – a requisite tonic reminding her, and spectators alike, the 23-year-old can indeed be “that girl”.

The sequel to her Olympic saga seemed an impossible prospect when she departed the Land of the Rising Sun. Coffee chats with her parents revealed her cup was near empty; elite gymnastics, it seemed, had exhausted her. College life called, and she embraced it wholeheartedly.

Joining the team formation breathed new life into Chiles; something about the atmosphere seemed quite magnetic. The freedom and creative leeway that the college gymnastic circuit provided sparked a light of joy she had never experienced.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. This newfound shift ignited a nagging sensation, and although she had quelled her critics with her triumphant declaration at the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials, an incessant voice gnawed at her. The seeming discrepancy stemmed from Chiles’ belief that despite her arduous journey and commendable performances, her very best version had not been unveiled – not even in Tokyo, where an off-color township trial performance denied her entry into the final.

Chiles cherishes her Tokyo exploits, particularly the silver medal and contributions to the team gold medal at the 2022 world championships. Still, a gnawing sense of unfinished business lingers. To quote her, “I’ve never been at 100% in my life.”

Reality shows she still isn’t. Such is the demanding and unforgiving nature of gymnastics. An unfortunate tumble during a national training camp in late January left her shoulder in an uncomfortable predicament. Adding to this, recurrent aches and pains threatened to derail her hopes of making the U.S. Olympic team prematurely.

Necessity birthed an extraordinary resolve in Chiles, or “pure grit, pure fight,” in the words of her mother, Gina Chiles. Defying odds, she responded in kind and pushed to revive her hopes.

Memories of the golden summer of 2021 continue to fuel her drive. These moments, coupled with her new-found sense of balance and perspective, remind her that “gymnastics doesn’t define who I am… it is a portion of me.”

This revelation has led Chiles to approach gymnastics on her personal terms — a vital distinction from earlier in her career.

Being the single black gymnast in her program instilled a potent determination, turning her into an influencer. Not only did her catchy floor routine in 2023 go viral on the internet, but it also earned her perfect scores.

The routine married ’90s hip-hop tracks with her gymnastic finesse, but when she tried to use it during her elite return last summer, she was advised to switch, as it wasn’t deemed “USA-like.”

While expressing her desire for a more inclusive judging at the elite level both domestically and internationally, Chiles has found peace with the process. Her floor routine this season, inspired by pop star Beyoncé, marries “college-fun Jordan” and “elite Jordan.”

Regardless of the outcome at the end of this year’s Olympic trials, Chiles couldn’t be prouder. “Whether I make it, I don’t make it,” she said, “I’m not going to regret anything that I did or did not do.” After all, she is already in the fight, which is all that matters.