Overwhelming. That is one word Naydenov Gymnastics coach Erica Bakacs used to describe seeing Jordan Chiles compete internationally for the United States.
But the big stage didn’t faze the Pleasant Valley Middle School seventh-grader, who helped Team USA to first place in the junior age division at the City of Jesolo Trophy meet March 22-23 in Italy.
“I felt like I belonged there,” Chiles, 12, said.
Her scores reflected that confidence. Competing with gymnasts ages 11-15, she placed sixth in the all-around competition and was second in the individual vault competition with a score of 14.35. During the team competition, Chiles tied for second in floor exercise, placed third on the vault and eighth on the uneven parallel bars.
“I did what I trained to do,” Chiles said, adding that she was no more nervous at this meet than she usually is before competing. “It was the same. Nothing different, just a lot more people around.”
But this meet, which featured national teams from Australia, Romania, Japan and host Italy, was anything but ordinary — not only because throngs of fans were seeking autographs. For one thing, Chiles found out only days before the meet that she made the team for the trip to Italy.
“I had fun with all of the gymnasts, especially with my teammates,” Chiles said.
Her coach said it helped Chiles that she could follow the lead of the other five gymnasts on the junior team and the six competing for the senior national team. Her teammates had previous international experience.
“It’s extraordinary, not just for our gym, but for the whole state and our region,” Bakacs said, noting that she cannot remember the last time a Washington gymnast was part of the national team.
Chiles, who turns 13 on April 15, is too young to compete at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Her dream is to be part of the 2020 USA team at the Tokyo Games.
“By then, I’ll be a college gymnast,” Chiles noted.
Bakacs said competing in Italy was a valuable education for gymnast and coach.
Chiles saw first-hand how driven other gymnasts are to compete for the national team. The coach saw how critical it is for a world-class gymnast to be disciplined about everything in her life.
“We feel so fortunate that we had this experience at such a young age,” Bakacs said. “I hope she stays motivated to do everything we need to do. Because there are lots and lots of good kids who work very hard” in an effort to represent the United States.
Chiles has been on a fast climb for a couple of years.
She competed last year in the junior division at the USA Gymnastics national championships, but it was a solid performance during a January training camp in Texas that put her on the national team radar.
Bakacs said she was not sure if Chiles was ready for the intensity of national team competition until the February camp at the USA Gymnastics National Training Center in Huntsville, Texas.
Less than two weeks after the February national camp, Chiles was back in Texas competing for a spot on the national team for the seventh-annual City of Jesolo Trophy meet. On March 16, Chiles was named to the team. On March 19, the team flew to Italy for the March 22-23 competition.
After a day of sightseeing on March 24, there was a 26-hour trip home.
The whirlwind trip might be a sign of things to come. But there is plenty of training work to be done if Chiles is to earn another national team slot during the USA Gymnastics national championships in August.
Between now and then she will attend monthly training camps in Texas and spend hours most days at Naydenov, working to improve the difficulty and the execution of every aspect of her routines.
“Being with the national team and seeing how far I’ve gone is exciting,” Chiles said. “It doesn’t change my focus. It gives me motivation because I know how much work it takes to get there.”