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Jordan Chiles talks 2022 Nationals and his future at UCLA

Jordan Chiles doesn’t have much time to relax. It comes with the territory when you compete at the highest levels of elite and collegiate gymnastics: an Olympian on the elite circuit, a member of the legendary UCLA NCAA team. Even when she’s on vacation, Chiles tells POPSUGAR, “I think about gymnastics all the time.”

That doesn’t mean Chiles doesn’t take breaks. She knows, more than anyone, why prioritizing her mental and emotional health is just as important as staying physically strong. “I make sure every day that I take time for myself, that I talk to my friends, that I have time with my family, so I’m not constantly going back and forth,” she says. “Because it will wear you out.” His support system – family, coaches and friends – is huge for Chiles. The same goes for retail therapy, his favorite form of relaxation. “I’m a big fan of shoes,” she says.

Just weeks after competing (and making history) at the US Nationals, Chiles spoke to POPSUGAR from a national team training camp in Nashville, where she was training for the FIG World Challenge Cup in Paris on September 24 (she took gold in floor exercise and silver in vault). Staying focused, motivated and mentally healthy in a nonstop elite and college season can’t be easy, but Chiles doesn’t seem to care. “I like challenges,” she says.

“Return Season”

His positive attitude is no surprise. Chiles became an overnight hero at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, stepping in to compete on bars and beam when teammate and close friend Simone Biles pulled out of the team event. The first-time Olympian, who was already scheduled to compete on vault and floor, put on a show on all four apparatus and helped the United States to a team silver medal.

A year later, at the 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Chiles made history as one of only two U.S. Olympic gymnasts to compete in elite competition after one season in college gymnastics. (Jade Carey, who competes for Oregon State, also did it this year.) “I felt like I had more to give,” Chiles says of her return to the circuit. elite, a return she says she is considering since the Olympic preliminaries, months before her first collegiate competition. “I feel like that was the starting point for something that can get even bigger,” she remembers thinking. The U.S. Championships, she says, represent her “comeback season.”

“I’m going to go out there and be that soldier that I have to be, and fight until I can’t fight anymore.”

She went to Nationals with a very intentional mindset. “I was just like, ‘Let’s go back [to elite] and see what happens,” she said. “It’s a test for me. I’ve never done this before.” That doesn’t mean Chiles was immune to the wait on his shoulders. “What people see is Jordan Chiles, the Olympian, the girl who is intervened and helped [at the Olympics]”, she says. But thinking about it, she realized that while she is this Olympic hero, “I’m also the same girl who never left,” Chiles says. “That same girl who will bring joy and fun to the sport.”

The result? What Chiles calls the “calmest” attitude she’s ever had in a competition, plus an all-around medal and — oh, yes — a spot on the first-ever all-black podium at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships . Konnor McClain won gold, Shilese Jones silver and Chiles bronze.

For Chiles, this achievement is deeply significant. “Looking at this photo and knowing that I was part of something so beautiful, I feel so much more confident,” she says. “Yes, we represent the United States and our country, but we also represent our people and to be able to say that we were the first to represent our people on a completely different platform is an incredible thing. I am very honored to say that, yes, I was one of the first [all-Black podium]and [it] certainly won’t be the last.” Chiles also won bronze on floor and uneven bars.

Three more championship medals and two entries in the history books aren’t too bad for a self-proclaimed “granny” who, at 21, is already a veteran of elite gymnastics. “I was like, ‘Wow, can we go home? I’m tired here,'” Chiles jokes. “‘Is it done? Is the competition over?'” The young gymnasts Chiles is competing against, she adds, are “out of this world”.

TAMPA, FL – AUGUST 21: Shilese Jones, Konnor McClain and Jordan Chiles celebrate winning the all around competition during the 2022 USA Gymnastics Championships at Amalie Arena on August 21, 2022 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Back to school (and world championships)

It’s no easy feat to go straight from college gymnastics to the elite, and for Chiles, it wasn’t just about physicality. His return came after a tumultuous season at UCLA that included allegations of racist language used by a former teammate. Team members blamed the UCLA coaching staff and administration for failing to address the issue, and head coach Chris Waller resigned at the end of the season.

In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that UCLA had a disappointing season, at least by their standards, as the team failed to qualify for the NCAA championships for the first times since 2006. There have been undeniable highs, including Chiles winning her first 10 with an exuberant floor routine for Lizzo, Normani and Doja Cat, but she says the season as a whole “hasn’t been my best experience”.

Chiles remembers talking to her close friend and teammate (“my ride or die”) Sekai Wright before competitions and, at times, crying in confusion and frustration. “Why is nothing working? she remembers asking. Wright’s response, Chiles says, was to remind her how strong she is: “Don’t worry about anything else. Be you.” Stepping onto the competition field afterwards, Chiles says she felt like a warrior. “I won’t let [this situation] embarrass me,” she said to herself. “I’m going to go out there and be that soldier that I have to be, and fight until I can’t fight anymore.

Chiles is proud that she and her teammates gave their best and supported each other even when the scores weren’t there. She sees the season as a lesson, “to really show [that] I’m strong enough to keep doing what I love no matter what anyone throws at me.”

Chiles plans to compete for UCLA again this year, although she will take online classes in the fall semester while training for the world championships, which begin in late October. Upon her return to campus, she will work under a new head coach, Janelle McDonald, whom Chiles describes as “the best person I have ever met.” Chiles already has her new floor routine and new music in mind, but she will only reveal that the routine will be upbeat and feature all female artists. “I like everyone to be surprised,” she says.

After the dizzying journey of the past two years, the Olympian looks to the future with optimism. “Going into this next season with a new coach and a new understanding, I think these next three years… are going to be an incredible, incredible time,” Chiles said. “New beginnings, new chapter. It’s going to be very well written, and it’s going to have an amazing ending.”