How Simone Biles Pushed Best Friend Jordan Chiles to Go For Gymnastics Gold

Biles and Chiles—perhaps the best thing for gymnastics since resin—are aiming for Olympic gold. But before Jordan Chiles could join the G.O.A.T. in Tokyo, she first had to accept her invite to Texas.

By Sarah Grossbart Jul 22, 2021 10:00 AMTags
Watch: Why Simone Biles Is The G.O.A.T.

If we were to make a list of all the times Simone Biles proved she's the greatest, well, it wouldn't be short. But our personal favorite doesn't have anything to do with the Olympic gymnast's impressive tally of medals (25 from her five World Championships appearances, five from her last go-round at the 2016 games in Rio) or the four moves she's had named after her unmatched talents.

Even the time she won all-around and team gold at the 2018 Worlds while battling a kidney stone would take a backseat to her skills as BFF. That's how good of a friend she is. 

"Having her by my side 24/7 and giving me encouraging words every day definitely helped, and it was very motivational," fellow gymnast Jordan Chiles shared of training partner Biles on Today June 28, just hours after her third place finish at the Olympic Trials earned her a spot on the Tokyo-bound U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team. "Very happy to have someone like her."

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And not just because the four-time gold medalist wrapped 20-year-old Chiles in a huge hug after her trials performance in St. Louis, then fastened the gold Olympic rings necklace she'd been carrying around Chiles' neck. A match to Biles' own jewelry, "She said she was waiting awhile to give it to me," Chiles told reporters after the meet. 

Which is certainly sweet. But we'd wager the greatest gift Biles ever gave her good friend Chiles (yes, they're aware, yes it's adorable) was simply being there. 

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It was in late 2017 when Vancouver, Wash., native Chiles first considered hanging up her leotards. 

Despite winning all-around silver at the national championships, an unconventional spinning save on the beam launching Chiles into the rising star conversation, she'd been left off the roster for Worlds that year. "I didn't think the sport wanted me anymore," Chiles recalled to the New York Times last month. "So I went in the opposite direction."

Flailing a bit having parted ways with an overbearing former coach, she kinda "checked out from the sport," admitted mom Gina Chiles. She asked her mother to bag up the trophies, medals and ribbons that had been decorating her bedroom since she'd first hopped on a beam at age six and dumped her restrictive diet and rigid schedule, attending birthday parties and sleepovers for the first time in her life without worrying how it might affect her performance. 

And when she placed 11th in the all-around at nationals the next August, she figured all that was left was a graceful dismount.

"'I guess this sport is coming to an end for me because things just aren't working out for me at all whatsoever,'" she recalled thinking to the Times. "I just wanted to finish high school and go off to college. But then I had a talk with Simone."

And, man, did the 24-year-old phenom stick the landing. 

Biles invited the then-high school senior to train with her at the gym she'd opened with parents Ron and Nellie Biles in 2014. And after Chiles attended her prom and high school graduation—rituals many in their line of work aren't able to experience—she made the leap to Spring, Texas and the World Champions Centre. 

"I discovered that gymnastics doesn't always have to be about strictness and being so hard on yourself and having so much doubt," Chiles told the Times. "I actually realized this when I saw Simone compete. She looks like she's having fun out there, laughing and giggling, and doesn't look stressed or tired. I was like, 'You know, I'm going to try that one of these days and see how it turns out.'"

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Because her previous routine certainly wasn't cutting it. 

Sure, it'd been all fun and games when parents Gina and Timothy Chiles wrapped a blindfold around her eyes and drove her to a local gym. Timothy had made the decision to surprise his daughter, the youngest of their five children, with gymnastics classes after she'd spent a week jumping off of furniture while her mom was away on business. (Her T-ball game had suffered due to her tendency to do cartwheels in the outfield, so they had every reason Chiles would flip over the opportunity.) 

"I thought it was just like a trampoline park," Chiles said in a June ESPN profile. "All the girls were doing flips and stuff, and I thought it looked like fun."

Designated elite at 11, Chiles—named after basketball great Michael Jordan—won the junior all-around at the U.S. Classic in 2014, the same year Biles nabbed the senior title and the duo of Biles and Chiles was born. 

But less than three years later, Gina found herself scooping up her sobbing daughter at the airport, sitting with her as she cried about being passed over to compete at an international meet. 

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"I felt like I was a nobody and no one knew who I was," she explained to ESPN. "I started questioning, 'Do I even need to be doing this sport?' After [national] championships, I didn't want to do it anymore. I thought about quitting elite and dropping down to level 10 and then going to college and enjoying my college career."

It wasn't just the missed opportunity. At 16, Chiles had grown frustrated with a sport that prided itself on rigidity and sacrifice. Already a careful dieter, she'd been told time and again not to gain an ounce of weight or even lift a dumbbell lest she add too much muscle to her already chiseled frame. She'd been instructed as to how to cut her hair (deemed "too poufy") and been labeled as a teen with a bad attitude whenever she voiced her concerns. 

Explained Gina, "I didn't understand that it had gotten that bad for her. So I apologized like crazy. I told her: 'I'm so sorry. I missed it. I messed up. It's my job to protect you, and I made a big mistake.'"

Which is right about when Biles stepped in with the solution. "Simone was so supportive and so encouraging," Chiles reflected to ESPN. "And to get that from her, this amazing Olympic athlete, I was so honored and it was a big help to get me through."

Rooming together at the world championship team trials in October 2018, Biles chatted with Chiles about joining her gym where the girls' team is led by the coaches Olympian Madison Kocian had used ahead of her 2016 run. 

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"I told her, 'I think I'm going to do it. I'm ready now,'" Chiles told ESPN. "Simone was like, 'This is a big thing, are you sure?' But I knew I was and that I had to make a change."

Coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi are known for possessing the toughness necessary for creating the best of the best, but also a bit of flexibility, feeling that gymnasts perform better when their lives have as much balance as they do. So in that vein, Chiles lived it up for the last stretch of her senior year, turning up in Texas two days after collecting her diploma in 2019. 

Though she and Biles were already friendly, she was blown away by just how supportive the Olympian was. "Being her teammate definitely is a game-changer," Chiles shared with ESPN. "I never had a teammate before this and when I went there, I was like, 'Whoa, this is what it is like to have teammates? This is cool. It's a different type of energy than you see in most gyms. We all laugh, we tell jokes, we give each other hugs and high fives and fist bumps and it gets us through the tough days. We all want to push each other to do our absolute best."

One of the few athletes who benefitted from the coronavirus-induced delay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Chiles used the time to heal from a November 2019 wrist surgery, launch her Melanin Drip Clothing Co. featuring hoodies emblazoned with phrases such as "i love my hair. it is my crown." with the help of her parents' screen printing machine and embrace a new regimen that allows space for joking around during practice, attending Biles' dinner parties and just enjoying life.  

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"Training under Laurent and Cecile definitely has changed my whole mindset, my whole attitude, and how I look forward to being in the gym these days," Chiles told PopSugar in June. "Being able to have coaches who truly understand me and what I've gone through and what I want in my career is something that I was really, really happy about."

The new hardware isn't bad either. Chiles followed up an all-around victory at February's Winter Cup by finishing second only to Biles at the U.S. Classic in May, then placing third at nationals behind Biles and their Olympic teammate Sunisa Lee. (Grace McCallum rounds out the foursome competing for team gold.) 

"Jordan has improved significantly since she first arrived at WCC, both mentally and physically," Biles noted to ESPN. "It's been exciting to watch her grow in and out of the gym. I see her pushing herself every day, which is inspiring."

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And though there's no doubt having an Olympic champion cheering on your Spider-Man-themed floor routine would be advantageous, the support goes both ways. 

"Who keeps me motivated, who keeps me kind of refreshed would definitely be my coaches, my agent, my parents, my family, my friends," Biles told E! News in May when asked how she stayed pumped during the long, unsure months that COVID brought. "I feel it really does take an army, I don't do this alone. And I feel like people forget."

She and Chiles are already sharing peeks at their time together in Tokyo, with Chiles predicting they'll "end up closer than we already are because of the COVID rules and how we can't see our family." (For the UCLA-bound gymnast, that's an even tougher challenge with her mom set to begin a one-year sentence for wire fraud Aug. 26.) 

But Chiles, who spent an entire career frantically obsessing over the scoreboard, has already mapped out her game plan for the 2020 games, kicking off July 23. 

"I need to be able to go out there and just be Jordan and not try to be somebody that—I don't know, like the next Gabby [Douglas], the next Simone," she explained to USA Today earlier this year. "I want to be the next Jordan. I'm myself."

It's a strategy she might have lifted from her partner in uneven parallel bars. Asked what she tells those coming up in her sport, Biles told E! News, "My advice is to be your own person. Don't let anybody tell you different. If you have goals, dreams—whatever it is, go for it, don't let anybody hold you back. Because it's going to seem scary and it should, but in the end it will pay off, even if you're walking on that road alone. Just do it, go for it and believe in yourself."

Though, if you're really lucky, your best friend will be at your side cheering you on the whole way. 

Watch 2020 Tokyo Olympics coverage every day on NBC and Peacock.