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News / Sports / National Sports

Vancouver’s Jordan Chiles making a run at a second Olympics, this time on her terms

Prairie HS grad competes at U.S. Championships beginning Friday

By WILL GRAVES, AP National Writer
Published: May 30, 2024, 6:05pm
4 Photos
Gymnast Jordan Chiles pauses during training Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Spring, Texas. Chiles doesn&rsquo;t have to put herself through this. She knows this. The proof is tattooed on her arm. It&rsquo;s sitting in her trophy room. It&rsquo;s on her social media pages, which are dotted with the kind of partnerships she once never dreamed possible.(AP Photo/David J.
Gymnast Jordan Chiles pauses during training Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Spring, Texas. Chiles doesn’t have to put herself through this. She knows this. The proof is tattooed on her arm. It’s sitting in her trophy room. It’s on her social media pages, which are dotted with the kind of partnerships she once never dreamed possible.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip) Photo Gallery

FORT WORTH, Texas — Jordan Chiles doesn’t have to put herself through this. She knows it. The proof is tattooed on her arm. It’s sitting in her trophy room. It’s sprinkled on her social media feeds, which happen to be dotted with the kind of partnerships and experiences she once never dreamed possible.

Yet here she is, three years removed from the summer of 2021 — when Chiles put together maybe the best gymnastics of her life (so far anyway) to make the Olympic team and left Tokyo with a silver medal, a scholarship waiting for her at UCLA and more than a splash of fame — and aiming for another shot on her sport’s biggest stage.

Chiles, a graduate of Prairie High School, will take the floor at the U.S. Championships on Friday night looking to build momentum following a promising third-place finish at the U.S. Classic two weeks ago that offered a needed reminder that she can still be, as the 23-year-old likes to put it, “that girl.”

Getting to this moment seemed unlikely shortly after Chiles left Japan. She told her parents she was probably done with elite gymnastics. She dove headfirst into college life and everything it had to offer.

There was something about being in the team atmosphere that spoke to her, something about the freedom of self-expression the booming college gymnastics scene provides that helped her find joy.

Still, something kept nagging at her. It wasn’t the doubters. She figures they were silenced the minute Chiles heard her name called at the end of the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials.

It was something else.

For all the work she’s put in through the years, Chiles never felt she’d been at her best. Certainly not in Tokyo, when a so-so performance during qualifying prevented her from making any of the event finals. And while she treasures that Olympic silver medal — particularly considering the circumstances — and the team gold she helped secure at the 2022 world championships, there remained a sense of unfinished business.

“I’ve never been at 100% in my life,” Chiles said.

To be honest, she’s still not. Gymnastics simply doesn’t allow it. She tripped during a national training camp in late January and tweaked her shoulder, symbolic of a difficult stretch in which the aches and pains that are as much a part of the sport as chalk and leotards threatened to derail her chances of making the five-woman U.S. Olympic team before they even began.

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Chiles responded with what her mother Gina called “pure grit, pure fight.”

“She was like, ‘I know what I want to do, I know what I need to accomplish, I know I have the right people in place to help me get there,’ ” Gina Chiles said.

And perhaps just as important, she has memories of the summer of 2021, when Chiles separated herself from a crowded field by competing with the kind of consistency that had long been elusive.

Maybe that’s why what happened at the U.S. Classic felt a little bit like déjà vu as all the injuries that have nagged at her and any lingering self-doubt slipped away and the “angry Jordan” that always seems to push her beyond whatever limits she sets for herself returned.

“She seemed to fully focus and is all in,” said Chellsie Memmel, the technical lead for USA Gymnastics women’s elite program.

Call it the byproduct of a bit of selective memory. There are times Chiles admits she’ll catch a glimpse of the rings tattooed on her right arm or comes across that silver medal prominently displayed in her house and remember “I’m like, I’m an Olympian? Oh yeah. Thanks for reminding me.’ ”

In a way, it’s almost on purpose. For the positive vibes that Chiles carries wherever she goes — yes, that was Chiles, friend Simone Biles and other members of World Champions Centre dancing their way around Dickies Arena during training on Wednesday — there is a steeliness underneath it, too.

She needs to forget what she’s done — in the moment, anyway — so she can turn her focus on what’s still ahead, both inside and outside the gym.

Her experience at UCLA as both a student and a competitor led to growth and maturation that has helped put things in perspective.

“Gymnastics doesn’t define who I am,” she said. “Gymnastics is a portion of me.”

Just not all of her, as it was earlier in her career, earlier in her life. It’s a vital distinction that has helped her approach this go-round on her own terms.

Chiles is intent on doing things her way. The same athlete who felt all eyes on her as the only Black gymnast in the Naydenov program she joined growing up in Vancouver has made it a point to embrace her culture.

She went viral and racked up perfect 10s during her sophomore year at UCLA in 2023 with a floor routine set to ’90s hip-hop tracks, though when she tried to incorporate it in her return to elite last summer, she was told to change it because she was advised it wasn’t “USA-like.”

“Do I wish I was able to have that routine? Yes, 100%,” she said. “I tried fighting for it and it was still a no.”

While stressing she would like the judging at the elite level — not just in the U.S., but internationally — to become more inclusive, she’s made peace with the process. The floor routine she’s using this season is inspired by pop artist Beyoncé and straddles the line between what she calls “college-fun Jordan (and) elite Jordan.”

Maybe it will be good enough to help Chiles hear her name called again at the end of the Olympic Trials. Maybe it won’t. She’s put herself in a position to be in the fight. That’s all that matters.

“Whether I make it, I don’t make it, I know that at the end of the journey, at the end of this chapter, I’m going to be very proud of myself because I’m not going to regret anything that I did or did not do,” she said. “So that’s where that peace comes into play.”

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