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Jordan Chiles Reflects on Her Moment at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Get to know the next generation of must-know names that are changing the game in the series Introducing, where Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are celebrating the Black women and girls who are emerging leaders and rising stars in the sports world.

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Jordan Chiles

Instagram: @jordanchiles

Name: Jordan Chiles
Age: 20
Profession: U.S. Olympic gymnast, UCLA Bruin 
Hometown: Vancouver, Wash.
Guilty pleasure: Shopping

During the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, when star U.S. gymnast Simone Biles suddenly withdrew from the team final after suffering a case of the twisties on the vault, her teammate Jordan Chiles was called on to step in—but the 20-year-old was unsure whether she could deliver. Chiles was slated for vault and floor in the team final, but with Biles out, she had to compete in the balance beam and uneven bars, too. She had no issues in her routines on the bars and beam, but on the floor, Chiles slipped and fell. The misstep didn’t put the U.S. out of medal contention—with Chiles’s help, the team took home the silver.

Fast forward to 2022, and Chiles is now a confident woman living her truth as an UCLA gymnast. Below, she recounts why her Olympic moment was special—not just because of the silver medal, but because it motivated her to find her strength.

Empower Onyx: Did you ever dream of going to the Olympics?

Jordan Chiles: Funny story. During the 2008 Olympics, I would sit with my mom every morning and every night. I told my mom: I want to be an Olympian. I didn't know what sport; I was 4 at the time. It was such an honor to watch people show what they love and how much work and effort they put in their sport.

EO: How did you end up in gymnastics?

JC: Gymnastics saved my life. As a child I had bad ADHD and I couldn't sit still, so [my parents] put me in gymnastics at age 7. It calmed me down because I had to really focus, and I got to let my energy out.

EO: How does it feel to breathe the rare air of an Olympian?

JC: It was an amazing feeling. Being able to have a medal around your neck, standing up on a podium at the Olympics, that's crazy!

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EO: What happened when you realized Simone wasn’t going to be able to compete in the team final?

JC: At first. I was like, are you serious? I thought we were disqualified because we lost a team member. I wasn't supposed to be on those two events in the first place. Then [our coach] was like, put your grips on. 

As I was putting my grips on, I was just so confused. I was shaking at that point. Then, Simone came over to us and she was like, I want you guys to go out there and have fun. We all looked at each other—we were like, wait, no, we can’t, we need you! You’re literally the biggest person on the team.

EO: Take us back to that moment. What was going through your head?

JC: At that moment? I went all focus because I knew I was doing it for her. Knowing that she wasn’t with me was heartbreaking. At the same time, she was still with me. She was just playing a different role. She was literally being the mother of the team, helping us out. I didn’t think that she was going to feel comfortable coming back out, but when she came out, I was like, this person is strong. She’s the most amazing person ever. At the end of the day, she supported us.

EO: What was it like for you to see your friend who had trained for this moment to be on the sidelines?

JC: Having your best friend, your role model, your hero out there—although she wasn’t competing, she was still there. Everybody said, Jordan, you were just so focused. All I could do in that moment was step into that position and be the person I needed to be for her. Trust me those shoes that I filled, those are some huge shoes. I could never do that again. That was a once in a lifetime thing. I told her: Bro, I don’t know if I could ever fill your shoes again. That was scary for me. Everything was a blur at the end of the day, before we got our medal. We were like, how did this even happen?

EO: When Team USA won the silver medal, it was a very emotional moment. Why?

JC: I never told anybody, but there was a little moment that happened before we even got onto the podium.

In that moment, I felt like I didn’t make her proud enough. I cried because Simone started crying, and she asked me if I was O.K. And I told her, I'm sorry, I feel like I didn’t make you proud. I don’t remember everything she said, but she was like, You made me so proud. You went out there, you showed the world. She told me, You did such an amazing job. You guys are silver medalists. You got a silver medal with three people, that’s crazy. 

EO: How did the rest of the team feel knowing you made not only Simone proud, but all of Team USA?

JC: After that, it was all fun! We were like, look guys, we really did it—like, yay! Being there with the girls that I was with, I wouldn’t change that for the world, because we did what we did.