When Jordan Chiles started gymnastics at 6 years old, she did it for fun. After watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics though, she told her parents, “I want to be an Olympian.”
Her dream came true in 2021 at the Tokyo Games, where she joined a fierce team that included Sunisa Lee, Grace McCallum, and Simone Biles. The year was no doubt historical, as international discourse about Black athletes’ mental health began with a bang, the echo of which hasn’t faded. When Biles revealed she had the “the twisties,” she withdrew nearly completely from the events and Chiles, her close friend, stepped in.
The triumphant few days were a challenge (Chiles has previously referred to it as “devastating,“) but the 20-year-old remained grounded, even as she leapt through the air. In conversation with ESSENCE, she talked about how emotionally charged the moment was, noting how quickly it all came to be. “It may have looked like 10, 15 minutes for you guys, but it felt like five seconds for me,” she said. “I wanted just to prove not only to myself, but also to Simone, that I can be put in her shoes and hopefully make her proud. And that’s what I wanted to do throughout the whole entire competition.”
In a shimmering red, white, and blue leotard, Chiles shined on the beam and the bars—two events she didn’t anticipate being a part of. She fell during her floor routine and did not qualify for the all-around, but that didn’t stop her from helping Team U.S.A. bring home a silver medal.
Afterwards, she began nestling into college at the University of California at Los Angeles. She had been accepted in 2019 and deferred her enrollment twice before the then-upcoming Olympics. With a legion of supporters and a massive win under her belt, Chiles is a member of UCLA’s renowned gymnastics team and is ready to shine brighter than ever.
“I want to say [they’re] harder on us than it is with anybody else.”
Jordan, who is named after Michael Jordan, was born in 2001 to Timothy and Gina Chiles. She has four older siblings, two of which (sisters Jasmine and Jade) are on her personal team. At 11, Jordan reached elite status, the highest level of gymnastics, making her one of the youngest to ever do so.
Chiles thrived in the sport, racking up recognition for her pronounced talent and going on to win the junior-level U.S. Classic in 2014. Her success came to a head in 2017, when she found herself ready to leave it all behind. She was feeling discouraged after not being chosen to compete on the U.S. team at the national championships. Body shaming from her former coach also impacted her confidence and performance.
“I want to say [they’re] harder on us than it is with anybody else. Like, we’re just beautiful. And I think it’s so hard for people to recognize that,” Chiles said of Black women. “Instead of being able to give us the ability to have those amazing compliments, they feel like they need to critique us. I’ve dealt with that my whole entire life, where people were like, ‘You don’t fit for gymnastics,’ or ‘Your body looks thin,’ or this, that, and the other. And I’ve had to take that in. But I’ll tell myself I’m beautiful in my own skin. I literally look in the mirror every day and tell myself, ‘You’re loved. You’re beautiful, stay positive.'”
Biles was there during Chiles’ time of need and gave her an opportunity of a lifetime: training with her.
“She’s a sister to me.” -Jordan Chiles on best friend Simone Biles
Beginning in 2018, the two worked tirelessly and had fun doing it. They rehabilitated Chiles’ passion for the sport, while also preparing for the 2020 Olympics. When Chiles injured her wrist and required surgery in 2019, the pandemic gave her more time to train ahead of the tryouts held during the summer of 2021. She cherishes the time spent with her friend.
“She’s a sister to me,” Chiles said. “So being able to have such an idol and icon, a legend, the GOAT, being part of my life is amazing. She’s taught me a lot, not just in the gymnastics world, but also in the outside world as well. When you find that person who’s going to help you with anything, with down days, up days, feeling like you can’t do something that day, that’s how you know that they’re a true friend.”
The success of the Olympics may have been enough to satiate another athlete’s appetite for greatness, but not Chiles’. In December 2021, she made her debut as a member of the UCLA gymnastics team. Two months later, during a competition against Utah, she scored a perfect 10 (a feat she’s done twice since then) for her floor routine. She strutted to an upbeat playlist consisting of Lizzo, Doja Cat, Cardi B, and Normani, which proved to be the sassy soundtrack she needed for her big moment.
“When putting that routine together, I wanted it to be different compared to my elite world because I am in college. I wanted it to be more hype,” she said. “I wanted to be able to get the crowd involved and just to enjoy the gymnastics and the dance part of it.”
Lizzo saw the routine and gave Chiles her props with a kind tweet. The artistic gymnast returned the love, saying, “Lizzo’s an inspiration. I wish I could meet her and tell her in person, ‘You’re an icon. You’re a hero.'”
The music fan then gushed about more of her favorite artists; Megan Thee Stallion and Normani, two Black women who are also at the forefront of pop culture. “You know, [Megan’s music] always be hyping me up all the time,” she said. “Thee Stallion always just knows how to get to the key point in her raps. My favorite artist is Normani. And her voice is so unique that whenever I listen to her music, I feel like I just can feel what she’s talking about.” Maybe we’ll hear Normani’s upcoming single in a new routine? Chiles says she’s an “R&B and pop” kind of girl, so we’ll see.
In between jamming out, juggling classes, and hitting the mat, the business economics major is also running a business.
“I have my own business called Melanin Drip Clothing Co. I’ve always wanted to have a clothing line,” Chiles said. “I wanted to bring out that style and that street wear that a lot of people love to wear.” She got it honest; her family is full of entrepreneurs. She mentioned that her mother once had her own property management company and that her sister, Jasmine, is a cosmetologist with her own salon. Though she admits it’s difficult, Chiles is excited about her major and is eager to learn more about business. “I wanted to figure out how businesses work and what you do. Business economics is a really hard major to do, but I like to challenge myself.”
She knows the world is wondering whether or not she plans on participating in the 2024 Olympics. “That’s something that I am thinking about,” she said. “I just want to make sure that I’m my mind is right.”
We’re sure that no matter her next step, gymnastics’ big dreamer has already won—both a coveted medal and our hearts.