PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When Jordan Chiles takes her place on the floor during the US Olympic Gymnastics Trials, she won’t be wearing the Wonder Woman leotard that made headlines in 2018. She won’t be performing her routine to the theme of the Marvel Superhero movie that set Twitter aflame.
Chiles doesn’t need to personify a superhero; she has become one.
The 20-year old from Vancouver, Washington burst back onto the Elite gymnastics scene earlier this year at the Winter Cup after having wrist surgery in October of 2019. She backed it up with a third place All Around finish at US National Championships in early June, a half a tenth behind Suni Lee, and about five points back on gold medal favorite Simone Biles.
The top two finishers at Olympics Trials this weekend will earn an automatic spot in Tokyo then a committee will choose which gymnasts will fill the remaining two spots as well as select the team alternate.
The years between her viral Wonder Woman routine and now have been filled with all the challenges and adversities required for one to go from a character in a story, to the superhero of their own.
In 2017, Chiles was the only elite gymnast in Washington state. She was working with a coach who she says wasn’t able to coach her, at times making it feel unsafe to learn and try the gravity-defying skills required to make it as an elite gymnast.
“It was very stressful,” Chiles remembers the week before Trials. “I doubted myself a lot, felt like I didn’t want to be there. I just felt like things weren’t how they were supposed to be.”
In the story arc of Chiles story, this is the moment that would have the audience on the edge of their seat, holding their breath. This is where Chiles story could have gone one of two ways – give up the Olympic dream and take her scholarship to UCLA. That path offered the chance to put the intensity and strain of elite gymnastics behind her, and to gain a gym full of sisters, to be a part of the team she so desperately longed for.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to come back,” said Chiles. “One hundred percent I did not think I was going to be able to come back.”
The second path felt as elusive as a mirage in a desert; another chance at realizing her Olympic dream by moving across the country and joining the World Champions Centre, the gym owned by Biles family in Texas. Putting it all on the line one more time.
“There were a lot of encouraging words coming towards me from people who have been behind my journey forever,” said Chiles. “They told me I was able to do anything I put my mind to. That’s when everything started to slide into place to how it was supposed to be.”
Chiles switched to WCC, gaining not only the friend she calls her ride-or-die, in Biles herself, but a gym full of people who reminded her that the ending has yet to be written, and she’s the one who gets to write it.
That leap of faith proved to be her defining moment. Since making the move Chiles has flourished, and even she has a hard time putting into words exactly what it is about Biles and World Champions Centre that makes it a place so many gymnasts thrive.
“The energy that is being put through the whole gym from the people at the front desk to the little kids doing the rec classes… it’s just the vibe and the energy that she puts off in a way to where everybody will feel welcome, everybody will feel like they have something inside of them that they can present, it’s just different. It’s totally different.”
And Chiles is a totally different person heading into Olympic Trials than the one who almost gave up on the sport a few years ago.
“I’m feeling more prepared than I did heading into [National Championships],” said Chiles. “I know that might seem weird but Championships was a little nerve-wracking because I kind of needed to prove I could still stay consistent but make it to Trials at the same time.”
“I got that little nervous thing out of me so heading into Trials I’m excited, I’m ready, I’m prepared. So, whatever the outcome is, is whatever the outcome is.”
Giving up control, while thriving in a sport that requires so much of it from you, isn’t easy.
“I’ve come to a place where I’m just like, ‘look, I’m just out there doing what I love and for me,’ because there’s nothing I can do with what happens in the end.”
Chiles hopes her end will be a spot on Team USA., She’s put in the years, sweat and tears to get to this point, and if she joins the ranks of Olympians who have come before her it won’t be as the “next” anybody, it will be the best version of Jordan Chiles.
“People have told me, ‘you’re going to be the next [Biles]…’ but my journey is totally different compared to hers. So when people tell me that I’m like, ‘y’all can tell me that but I’m going to be the next Jordan and I’m going to be the next Jordan that has never hit potential in a way… I’m not at the best Jordan.'”
“So in my world, I’m the next Jordan Chiles. I’m the next girl who’s done nothing in her life but then suddenly makes an Olympic team.”
“This version of Jordan Chiles is somebody that is going to have fun, go out there with no regrets and finally say that she did it.”
If Chiles makes Team USA and moves on to medal in Tokyo many will point to that as her heroic moment, but really that’s the happily-ever-after. Her heroic moments happened along the way, every time she chose to bet on herself and be her own superhero.