Jordan Chiles was 7 years old when she started taking classes at Naydenov Gymnastics in her hometown of Vancouver, Washington. While age 7 is considered a late start, Chile accelerated, skipping levels six and eight, and turned elite at age 11.
“It just went like a rocket ship,” she laughed.
Chiles was almost always the only elite gymnast from region two, which includes Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
“I thought it was normal,” she said. “Now that I think about it, it’s crazy.”
She made her senior debut in 2017. At the U.S. Championships that year, she finished second in the all-around, though she ultimately wasn’t selected to compete at the world championships.
But as 2018 progressed, it became clear that something wasn’t working.
“I just wasn’t in the right mindset,” Chiles said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to do gymnastics anymore… I would cry and cry and cry, and nobody knew.”
At the same time, her coach Dimitri Taskov – who worked with Chiles since she started gymnastics – came to a realization of his own.
After the 2018 U.S. Championships in Boston – where Chiles finished 11th in the all-around – Taskov told Chiles that she needed more than what he could offer.
“She had so much potential,” Taskov said. “She needed to be surrounded with elite-level gymnasts.”
Chiles listened in shock.
“He did so much for me,” she said. “But he knew I needed a change, and he saw that I could be more than what I was.”
For Taskov – who grew up in eastern Bulgaria near the Black Sea – the recommendation was deeply personal. He made a similar choice at 19, moving to Sofia to train with the nation’s best gymnasts.
Taskov credited his 200-mile cross-country move with allowing him to qualify for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where he helped the Bulgarian men finish fifth.
And so, at the end of 2018, Chiles told her parents she wanted a change. “To move and continue my dream that I’ve always had,” she said.
Chiles and her mom, Gina, moved to Spring, Texas, days after she graduated from high school the following spring.
Chiles chose a gym that allowed her to train not only with other elites, but also the best gymnast in the world: Simone Biles.
Every replay of Simone Biles’ Yurchenko double pike vault: VIDEO
Nearly two years after she started at World Champions Centre under coaches Laurent and Cecile Landi, Chiles is certain she made the right choice.
“Laurent and Cecile brought back the love of the sport for me – because it was gone,” she said.
One of the biggest adjustments: a new mentality. “I lived in a world where everything [was] strict, strict, strict,” she said. “They’ve given my so much encouragement. I didn’t get that too much in the past. I just thank them all the time.”
Chiles also credits Biles with helping usher in that culture change. “She is someone who has made history, and she has done it in a way that she enjoys it,” she said. “That’s the way it should be.”
At February’s Winter Cup, Chiles displayed renewed excitement, winning the all-around and posting top scores on three of four events: vault, floor, and beam (tie).
She’ll face a deeper field that includes Biles at this Saturday’s U.S. Classic in Indianapolis (Peacock coverage of the first session begins at 1 p.m. ET; Chiles will be competing in the second session at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Taskov says he will be rooting for his former pupil.
“She’s a great kid,” he said. “She deserves to achieve a lot in her life.”Follow @AlexAzziNBC
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