TAMPA — After Jordan Chiles finished her last routine of her first day of elite gymnastics competition since the Olympics, she started tearing up.
“Oh my gosh,” she said later, remembering what was spinning through her head. “I’m back.”
Chiles and fellow Tokyo medalist Jade Carey were pleased with their simultaneous returns to the sport’s highest level at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Friday night.
Chiles placed third in the all-around behind Shilese Jones and Konnor McClain. Carey is fifth going into Sunday’s final day of the meet. Both came off busy college seasons. They competed weekly from January into April, then shifted into full-time elite training.
“[Friday] honestly went really better than I thought it was going to go,” said UCLA’s Chiles, part of the Olympic silver medal team in Tokyo. “I just wanted to come into this competition hitting four for four [routines], honestly, and that’s what I did.”
They are in solid (and very early) position to make the five-woman team for this fall’s world championships, especially since fourth-place Kayla DiCello is not expected to vie for a roster spot as she matriculates at the University of Florida. A committee will finalize the world team following an October selection camp.
Just by stepping on the floor, Chiles and Carey made history. They became the first U.S. Olympic female gymnasts to return to elite competition following an NCAA season, showing that college gymnastics does not always signal retirement from Olympic-level gymnastics.
Chiles placed in the top five on all four events, competing with micro tears in a shoulder labrum and bicep, alleviated by pain-killing shots in the spring. Carey had the highest score on vault and second-highest on floor.
“This was a very good first step back here on the elite stage,” said Oregon State’s Carey, the Olympic floor exercise champion. “Wasn’t a perfect day, but I’m proud of the routines that I put together.”
Carey and Chiles both have 2024 Olympic ambitions. Only one U.S. female gymnast has gone from the Olympics to college gymnastics and back to the Olympics, and that was before the NCAA era began 40 years ago.
They are faces of a changing landscape in the sport. In Tokyo, there were more non-teens than teens competing in Olympic women’s gymnastics for the first time in more than 50 years. Also in the last 50 years, Simone Biles is the only woman in her 20s to win a U.S. all-around title. Jones is 20. Chiles is 21. Carey is 22.
Chiles and Carey ascended into leadership roles in the absences of Biles, who texted Chiles that she would watch the competition from her cruise, and Tokyo all-around gold medalist Suni Lee, who was in the arena as a spectator. Biles and Lee have not ruled out returns to elite gymnastics for a 2024 Olympic run.
Before Friday’s competition, Chiles said she and Carey told the other gymnasts that they would bring a hyped-up, loud-cheering NCAA atmosphere to the event.
Chiles took notice of her younger competitors. Notably Jones, whose leading 14.85 on uneven bars motivated Chiles to “step it up.”
“I’m happy that they’re looking up to us in a way, but then also I can look up to them knowing that they are younger, and they are experiencing something different,” Chiles said. “I’m coming into this as Jordan Chiles, the Olympian, but they’re still being able to fulfill their journey.”
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