How Jordan Chiles' success and influence is inspiring young gymnasts

Olympic silver medalist Jordan Chiles says the landscape has changed for women of color since she first started doing gymnastics — and shares what she’s doing to help.

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Jordan Chiles will be heard. 

Whether through her words, her actions, or her music, the Olympic silver-medal winner is helping to change the landscape -- and the soundtrack -- of gymnastics. 

As a young gymnast, Chiles said she didn't see herself represented in the winners on the podiums or in most of the routines.

"My voice now, no matter what, I have learned that it's going to be heard," she said on NBC's "My New Favorite Olympian."

That determination to be as authentic as possible, not only for herself, but for the little girls seeing the now champion perform, comes through in every routine.

The beat of a 1990s hip-hop star has been heard when Chiles is on the mat. The style of a modern-day global icon has been seen. The impact of an influential Black gymnast has been felt. 

"Whether people like it or they don't, you can like me or if you don't like me, that's how it works here," she said. "That's how it works in the world. That's how it works in life."

Chiles, after winning a silver medal with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, went on to turn the gymnastics mat into a dance floor.

During her sophomore season at UCLA in 2023, she used a 1990s hip-hop medley for her floor routine at the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships. From DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat" to Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop," Chiles' execution wowed the crowd and the judges, earning a perfect 10 that helped send UCLA to the National Championships. 

She wasn't the first to use hip-hop during a routine, as opposed to the sport's traditional classical music. But she was the latest, and her routine went viral.

"I loved Jordan's routine so much," Chiles' UCLA teammate Margzetta Frazier told NBC. "I'm sure that was such a culture shock for them."

Chiles continued to change the culture at the U.S. championships in May.

The 23-year-old wore a leotard she was inspired to design with GK Elite Sportswear after seeing Beyoncé's outfit during her "Renaissance" tour. Colorful, bedazzled and empowering, Chiles brought Beyoncé's look from the stage to the mat for a design unlike any other worn in the sport.  

“I am that girl,” Chiles told The Washington Post in a nod to Beyoncé's song. “I am going to look in the mirror and be OK with myself.” 

That sentiment, in Chiles' experience, had not always been shared within the gymnastics community.

When she first began gymnastics in 2007 at six years old in her home state of Washington, she said there weren't enough girls of color in the gym to even fill an Olympic podium. 

"It was literally me and this other girl who was trying to go for the Olympics during that timeframe," she said.

From 1980 when Luci Collins became the first Black woman to make the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the Olympics to the time Chiles began gymnastics, only two other Black women had represented Team USA in women's gymnastics. 

The lack of diversity in the sport became more glaring to Chiles as she got older and began to experience discrimination. 

"I was about 15, 16 years old when I was like, 'wait, something's not right' because I wasn't getting judged the same," she said. 

"My mom finally told me. She was like, 'You're not doing anything wrong, it's kind of like who you are and your skin color."

Chiles considered leaving the sport.

"I wanted to be done because I didn't think, one, the sport wanted me," she said. "I didn't think people around me wanted to see this beautiful Black girl in a [leotard] anymore. There were a lot of things that were going through my head.  But now when I think back, I'm happy I didn't do that."

Jordan Chiles is looking to make her second straight trip to the Olympics. That takes a lot of planning, but not as much as planning her trip down the aisle.

Just as the music and wardrobes can change in gymnastics, so too can the times.

Chiles, of course, went on to win an Olympic silver medal in the team final with Simone Biles, Suni Lee and Grace McCallum. 

In 2022, she won three world medals and became part of a historic group -- along with Konnor McClain and Shilese Jones -- that marked the first time in the history of the U.S. Gymnastics Championship that three Black women topped the podium.

"I was like, 'There's no way that we just did an all-Black podium," Chiles said.

It was a dramatic change from when Chiles was one of only two girls of color in the gym. Chiles continues to help the sport grow with her success and by partnering with the nonprofit organization Brown Girls Do Gymnastics, which aims to increase access to gymnastics for people of color. 

There, she speaks with aspiring gymnasts, and her voice is heard.  

"I've had times where I just look at them in their faces and I'm just like, 'You are the most beautiful human being that God has created and I want you to know,'" Chiles said. "I'll give them talks and whatever it is. I definitely enjoy the fact that the younger generation has someone to look up to that's like me."

Chiles was interviewed for My New Favorite Olympian, a series that tells the stories of Team USA’s most inspiring athletes and the causes they champion. Subscribe to My New Favorite Olympian wherever you get your podcasts.

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