Black Gymnast Magic!
By now the world is familiar with Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time who recently garnered her seventh U.S. title. Biles is a four-time Olympic gold medalist and has garnered 25 World Championship medals, 19 of which are gold, winning every national championship she’s ever participated in since 2013.
Still, Biles doesn’t exist in a vacuum. While she is indeed the G.O.A.T., she stands on the shoulders of women like Gabby Douglas, Dianne Durham and Dominique Dawes, who blazed a path for Black women gymnasts. She is also opening the door for many young Black women to run behind her, like the decorated U.C.L.A. gymnasts who recently competed at the N.C.A.A. Gymnastics Championships.
As the Olympic Trials are underway, we’ve rounded up a list of all the Black women gymnasts who are headed to compete alongside Biles.
Amari Drayton: Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
Drayton recently wowed the crowd during her floor exercise at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. The 16-year-old has been living in Spring, Texas, and training at Simone Biles’ World Champions Centre for the past two years. In 2018, she previously excelled during the Women’s Junior Olympic Championship meet, making history as one of the youngest competitors and placing first on her uneven bar routine and second place overall, the Hays Free Press reports.
She has excelled in the junior gymnastics division and said she is super excited to be competing for a spot on the U.S.A. Olympics team. For now, she’s focused on staying present for each competition.
“With my mind, I just need to like…calm down. Think about everything that’s happening, and just stay to myself kind of,” Drayton told reporters.
Check out her recent routine below.
Jordan Chiles, Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
Chiles is the youngest of five children. During her earlier years competing, she struggled to find her stride. While she loved the sport, competing at the top level was a struggle, and Jordan experienced struggles when it came to coaches.
“I had a bunch of coach changes, and having those coach changes made me really hard on myself. Made me feel like I didn’t want to be in the sport anymore,” she previously told The Columbian.
She continued to persevere, and with the support of her Vancouver coach, Dimitri Taskov, and her mother, Gina Chiles, the teen made the drastic decision to head to Texas and train at the World Champions Centre. Chiles had formed a friendship with Biles earlier during national team camp, and the move seemed like just the thing she needed to shake things back up.
Now the 20-year-old is in full gear, improving during the 2019 nationals, placing sixth and utilizing the pandemic to recover from wrist surgery and put together a plan to make the Olympic Trials. After not competing for 18 months, she garnered the top score at the Winter Cup this past February, following that up by coming in second to Biles during the G.K. Classic.
“She is the biggest fighter that I know. Not just gymnastics [but] in her life, things that were thrown in her family’s path…she still keeps digging and digging,” Gina said of her daughter.
Chiles is excited to compete in Trials, comparing her life to a rocket ship.
“The rocket ship is everything that’s been going through my life and other things that have happened. In that little rocket ship now, I’m at a point where it just took off, and I don’t have to worry about those things anymore,” said Chiles.
Shilese Jones, Westerville, Ohio/Future Gymnastics Academy
Photo Courtesy of @shicanfly/Instagram
18-year-old Shilese Jones has been competing at the elite level for a while. In pursuit of her Olympic dreams, the entire family has rallied together to support her. The family has moved from Seattle, Washington to Columbus, Ohio, to work with coach Christian Gallardo, former coach of Olympic champion Gabby Douglas. During the pandemic, Jones enlisted the help of her family to help her stay on track, working out at home and spending 10 weeks away from the gym.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is crazy. Like, it went from me qualifying [to compete for Team U.S.A.] in January to not having an Olympics. No other meets…nothing,” Jones told Olympics.com.
Eventually, Jones was able to return, competing at the Friendship & Solidarity Competition in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020, Gymnastics Wiki reports. The event was set up to test out safety precautions for the Olympics as precautions began being lifted worldwide after grappling to get a hold of the COVID-19 virus. Jones’ team took home gold at the competition with her competing on vault and uneven bars. She went on to win all-around silver at the Winter Cup, placing fourth on vault and ninth on the balance beam.
Jones shared footage from her most recent competition, captioning it with a lyric from rapper Cardi B.
“If it’s up, then it’s stuck…Still an unforgettable moment. Olympic Trials up next,” she wrote.
View this post on Instagramadvertisement
Skye Blakely, Frisco, Texas/WOGA Gymnastics
Photo Courtesy of Lloyd Smith/Gymnastics Now
According to the U.S.A. Gymnastics, 16-year-old Skye Blakely is a force to be reckoned with. The Texas native first started gymnastics when she was a child as another extracurricular activity alongside ballet and tap. She grew to love the sport and envisioned herself competing at the Olympics one day.
“I liked being able to show the skills that I’ve been working on, and I like that it challenges me,” said Blakely.
The teen has excelled tremendously, becoming the balance beam champion at the 2021 Winter Cup. She went on to win an all-around title at the American Classic, impressing judges with her beam routine, College Gym News reports.
Blakely doesn’t graduate high school until 2023, but she’s set to make all her dreams come true now. Check out video footage of her most recent routine below.
Zoe Miller, Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
Photo Courtesy of @_.ZoeMiller/Instagram
Miller moved from Connecticut to Texas to follow her dreams of becoming a professional gymnast. Her mom, Clara Miller, once told the Hartford Courant that her daughter had been preparing for the Olympics since she was 5-years-old.
“Zoe, since she was 5, was saying, ‘I am going to the Olympics,’” said Clara.
She didn’t take that goal lightly, quickly advancing through to compete at the top level. By age 10, she was already being compared to Simone Biles.
“She’s got all the qualities you look for. I’d categorize her like Simone Biles, in that she’s quick like her. She’s strong, flexible, quick. She has a lot of natural attributes, she’s a hard worker, and she’s very consistent and communicative,” Debbie Kaitschuck, an A.I.M. Athletics coach, previously told reporters.
Eventually, Miller trained hard enough to begin working with Biles, even forming a friendship with her. Most recently, the 24-year-old Olympic champion took time from winning her seventh national title to tie a silver ribbon in Miller’s hair. The touching moment between sisters in sport went viral, Biles saying things like that mean the most to her, The Grio reports.
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 7, 2021
“It’s meant the world, especially having the younger ones to kind of guide through the way. I’ve been here for so long, so to be a mentor for them has meant everything to me, and to share these accomplishments and these goals,” said Biles.
During the 2019 Women’s Junior Olympic National Championships, Miller placed first on the uneven bars and second on vault, the U.S.A. Gymnastics reports. She is officially one of 18 women selected for the 2021 U.S. National team and U.S. Olympic Trials.
She took to Instagram to share the great news.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be making [the] national team this year or even Olympic Trials! I’m so stoked about this and so excited to compete among potential Olympic competitors! Only up from here,” Miller wrote.
Congratulations, we’re rooting rooting for you!
Photo Courtesy of @SimoneBiles/Instagram