Shooting For Tokyo, Jordan Chiles Aims To Finish What She Started
Shooting For Tokyo, Jordan Chiles Aims To Finish What She Started
Jordan Chiles aims for Tokyo by finding a new love for the sport of gymnastics and a new gym at the World Champions Centre.
Some young gymnasts are bribed with candy, presents, and anything under the sun to stay motivated. This was never the case for Jordan Chiles - ask those closest to her, and they’ll tell you that she’s always been intrinsically motivated, from day one until now.
Chiles didn’t begin gymnastics classes until she was nearly seven years old, which is relatively late for most gymnasts. This was intentional, Gina Chiles, Jordan’s mom shared because of the time, money, and commitment. Though anyone who saw her jumping and flipping around told Gina to sign her up, she held back for a while. When she finally enrolled Jordan into her first rec class, Gina shared, “the first rec class was the beginning of everything."
Once Jordan convinced her family to bring her into the gym, there was no turning back. After months of begging to be signed up, her parents decided to make a big production of her surprise session. Blindfolded Jordan wandered into the gym, she then ripped off her blindfold and saw the gymnastics center. Much to everyone’s surprise, seven-year-old Jordan frowned and blurted out, “I thought it was a puppy.”
It didn’t take long for the disappointment to dissipate. Minutes into the rec class the coaches were captivated by her talent.
“When she actually went to her first class, that was it. I mean, she was in love, and it changed everything about her. It changed her, her focus, she was able to get all of her energy out and she literally just fell in love,” Gina shared.
After the very first class, the coaches were delighted by her strength and body awareness which was incredibly advanced for her age and experience. When they asked how long she had been in the sport, her mom laughed and told them honestly, “45 minutes!” They couldn’t believe Jordan had taught herself all these skills that take others multiple classes to learn, such as pulling herself up and over the bar.
When the coaches asked Jordan to try out for the team after the first class, Gina Chiles remained skeptical about keeping her in gymnastics.
“That was after the first class, and of course at that time, I'm thinking, ‘No. We're here just to let her jump around, get her energy out,’” Gina shared. After the second class, the coaches and Jordan were practically begging her to try out. Gina told Jordan if she could teach herself the skills that were necessary to try out for the team, she could try out.
Jordan did just that. Teaching herself all night, she went back to the gym the next day and made the team with the self-taught skills. Although her mom was still hesitant about the price and commitment level given her age, she agreed to allow Jordan to continue gymnastics. This would be a good way to practice fine motor skills, discipline, and focus Gina told herself. At the time, she didn’t have the foresight of Jordan’s career flourishing the way that it would. One rec class would be the doorway to a gymnastics journey only few get to experience.
“In my mind, I'm thinking, ‘Yeah, [gymnastics] would help her with a different sport. We'll put her in gymnastics and then she'll be really good at track,’ she shared. “She was playing T-ball, so I still had her in another sport at the same time, just kind of hoping she would kind of get over gymnastics, but she didn't...and then we all kind of fell in love with it.”
There was a moment when Jordan remembered noticing the other kids who were up on the podium. Though she showed pride in her performances, it was clear to her that she wanted to improve and win. “As soon as somebody told her what she had to do [to get on the podium], she's very competitive, and pretty much after that, it was all Jordan-driven. She just started doing her thing, started really progressing, very early,” Gina shared.
Progressing quickly was always Jordan’s superpower. Her coaches jokingly called her a video game, because they could yell out any skill, even new, difficult ones, and she’d do it without hesitation. “I just tell my mind to tell my body what to do,” she would tell people. Of course, her coaches knew it’s not that simple, to Jordan it was. That was how it always felt for her.
By testing out of levels six and eight, she was a level 10 at 10 years old, and an elite at age 11, making her a veteran by now as an eight-time national team member and someone who has been through two very different quads of gymnastics.
“She's absolutely amazing, and everything turned out beautiful, but that was a hard journey to get through, as an 11-year-old at that elite status with Team USA on her leo...I think what happens is they see what you can do, and it's exciting, and you see what you can do and it's exciting, and then if you don't do that, every moment that you're at that level, they forget you're only 11,” Gina shared.
If she could parent a child on the national team all over again, she would balance more time ensuring Jordan’s mental health, instead of focusing so much time and energy on her physical abilities.
Some of this reflection comes from the numerous times in Jordan’s gymnastics career when she wanted to be done with the sport. Most recently in 2018, Jordan shared with her parents and siblings that she was no longer enjoying the sport and felt she was chasing someone else’s dreams and goals, rather than what she wanted. She decided she would give up the Olympic chase and just focus on college gymnastics.
“This is tough because you're so close, and you have a gift, and we believe you can do this,” Gina recalls. “But you have to want to do it, or it's not going to matter. Even if you continue to do something and you achieve greatness, the fact that you didn't even want to, it's not going to have the same effect,” Gina told Jordan as they thought about what to do next.
After many conversations with Simone Biles, talking to her coaches and her family, Jordan concluded that she wanted to continue in the sport, but on her own terms.
For Jordan, it was clear that it was time for a change, and the timing was serendipitous. Soon after Jordan brought up the idea to her family, her coach Dimitri Taskov came to her after Nationals 2018 with a big idea. Seeing that she had so much potential in the sport, he recommended she try a new place to train.
As much as Jordan loved Dimitri as a coach, she agreed it was time to try something different. Like everything else in her gymnastics career, this decision was fueled intrinsically. Jordan suggested moving to World Champions Centre. She knew coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi and she knew Simone. What she craved was a team environment where other gymnasts were working daily towards the same huge goals.
It was a tough decision for the Chiles family to uproot their lives from Washington to Texas, but Gina knew it was the right thing to do. Jordan never asks for much in regards to the sport, so they trusted that this was the right decision. Both parents felt that they needed to support her, and with that, their family made the decision to take a risk in mid-2019.
“From that moment, it was for her. She was calling all the shots. She was directing the path, and it changed everything. She was so happy. She was so motivated. She saw growth in herself...the coaches were so supportive and literally asked her, ‘What do you want to do?” Gina shared. This approach was new and refreshing for Jordan. It was moments of empowerment and collaboration like these that fueled her spirit and reignited her love of gymnastics.
Start of something new..."Once upon a time you were a little girl with big dreams that you promised you'd make real one day. Don't disappoint yourself." 🙏🏾🎊 pic.twitter.com/WkVPrSjdFm— Jordan Chiles (@ChilesJordan) June 11, 2019
Training at a gym where she isn’t the biggest fish in the pond gives her goals to strive for and keeps her motivated to keep refining her mental and physical skills. Since changing gyms, she hasn’t missed a day of practice.
The moment she began at WCC, viewers saw an improvement in her skill level and execution. Jordan felt the change and added that her overall gymnastics demeanor has improved as well, saying, “I learned [having fun while performing] from [Simone], just seeing her being loose out there on the competition floor and still being focused...I was trying that, and it just helped me throughout my competitions. It really calms your nerves.”
Simone has been a big influence on Jordan. As a mentor, friend, and teammate, their bond is especially strong. “All of the girls that are in this quad are different compared to what me and Simone had to go through, and so having somebody like her who went through the same thing and we just know the difference between what happened in the past and what's happening now...it's great to have somebody who also understands,” Jordan shared.
"She's like a big sister to me. I just love her because she still encourages me to do better in the gym and to just have fun with everything.” Feeling confident and having fun with the sport has changed how Jordan competes, and she feels it contributed to her Winter Cup win.
Her relationship with her coaches, Laurent and Cecile, is strong as well. “Laurent is so funny, he makes jokes all the time. Obviously, his jokes are like bad jokes because he's a dad, so sometimes they're funny, sometimes we're just like ‘Laurent, that was not it, that was not a joke at all,’ but we understand each other, which is a good thing. [With Cecile] I love her...she treats us like her kids, which is an amazing thing. If we're injured, she understands all that stuff. So she just understands a lot of us, that bond that we all have with them, it's a great bond,” Jordan shared.
After seeing her success at Winter Cup, many gymnastics fans are considering her a strong contender for the Olympics. Jordan knows that she’s been seen as an underdog in the deep field of Olympic contenders for a while now, and notes that the increased confidence in her from fans makes her feel good and want to work even harder to show people what she can do. One way she plans to do that is through new skills, and although she’s not sharing just yet what most of those are, she has upgrades planned on bars, floor, and vault.
Beyond this season Jordan plans to compete at UCLA and is excited for college gymnastics and college life, even hinting that we might see a superhero floor routine or other similar, fun antics. When asked what she’s most looking forward to, she shared, “A lot of the JOs now are able to have fun and go out there and do what they love. I really never had that when I was younger because my coaches were so focused on getting me through the levels and getting to elite and stuff. So honestly, just being out there and having fun.”
Though the decision to defer college for a year to continue training elite was a difficult one, after talking to her family and coaches, she felt it was the right decision for her. “I knew I had something to finish that I started, ever since I was little and that's just what it had to come down to,” she shared.
Took time to think about things. College or keep fighting for my dream? Both I want BAD. I have decided and I know when I finally do compete for UCLA it will be fierce and with no regrets. So I'm continuing this elite journey I started 202ONE. Here we go! #thisoldladycanstillflip pic.twitter.com/1g72w8Ts0t— Jordan Chiles (@ChilesJordan) May 16, 2020
We can’t wait to see Jordan finish what she started, whether that’s in Tokyo or showing off how she’s once again found her love for the sport.
“Honestly, I really mean it when I say I have fun out there because I have come to a point in my life where I feel like gymnastics should be about you being who you are through the sport that you love and just going out there and showing what you know you can do.”
- Jordan Chiles
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