Jordan Chiles makes a statement, Laurie Hernandez returns at 2021 Winter Cup

By Patricia Duffy | February 28, 2021
Jordan Chiles makes a statement, Laurie Hernandez returns to competition at 2021 Winter Cup
Jordan Chiles (left), Laurie Hernandez (center), and Sunisa Lee (right) compete during the senior women's session of the 2021 Winter Cup on Saturday, Feb. 27. (© Lloyd Smith)

No, the training videos aren’t deceiving. Yes, Jordan Chiles does, indeed, look better than ever after her statement all-around win at the 2021 Winter Cup in Indianapolis this weekend.

Following the completion of the combined junior-senior women’s session on Sunday, Chiles’ win in the all-around, with a massive 57.050 four-event score, was confirmed.

“I [know] I [have] a job to finish,” Chiles said after the meet. “That job is being where I need to be in this go for the Olympics. Having that year-and-a-half [off] helped a lot, and I found the love of the sport back. I’ve gotten my physical and mental health back, so I just enjoy this more than I have before. And I, honestly, can say that I’m very proud of myself, in general.”

Chiles started her meet on floor with a new superhero-themed set that includes Spider-Man music, she says to “show people that I am a superhero as well.”

“He can fly; he can shoot webs; he can do this,” Chiles elaborated on the choice. “That’s kind of like us. As athletes, we can do anything we put our minds to.”

The showstopper of a routine scored a 13.600, good enough for the event title, and featured a big Chusovitina (full-twisting double layout) to open, double layout, double full through to front full, and a double pike to finish.

Her other event win came on vault, where she scored a solid 14.900 for her stunning double-twisting Yurchenko. Her 14.500 on beam, which featured a difficult full-in dismount, tied first-year senior Skye Blakely for the top score of the day on the event, earning her second after the execution score tie-breaker. Previously not known for her uneven bars work, Chiles earned a 14.050 for her high-flying, much-improved set.

“Obviously, a lot of people know I was never really a bar swinger,” Chiles said about her improvement on the apparatus since her move to World Champions Centre in 2019. “Now, I can say that bars is kind of my favorite event, and I just have fun with it.”

Women’s high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster was particularly impressed with Chiles’ stand-out performance so early in the Olympic year.

“It was a happy surprise that she looks as good as she does this soon in the year,” Forster said. “Everybody’s known that Jordan has tremendous potential to be extremely good and score very well internationally… I’m surprised because it’s only February, so I think that’s a really, really good sign for her.”

Rounding out the top two in the all-around were Future Gymnastics Academy’s Shilese Jones (55.100) and West Valley’s Emily Lee (53.400). Cincinnati’s Lilly Lippeatt led the seniors in Sunday’s combined session, narrowly missing the all-around podium by 0.15.

Hernandez looks comfortable and confident in return

2016 Olympic gold and silver medalist Laurie Hernandez impressed in her first competition in almost five years, hitting routines, albeit watered down routines, on floor and beam.

On floor, Hernandez brought her trademark energy as she debuted a Hamilton-inspired, self-choreographed routine while wearing a Captain Marvel-inspired leotard that she designed herself. (She previously let fans know that all of her leotards for this season are superhero-themed. Oh, and Captain Marvel herself, a.k.a. Brie Larson, approves.)

Originally planning to open with a full-in, Hernandez’s new coach, Jenny Zhang of Gym-Max, decided to pull the pass last minute due to nerves. Instead, she opened with a powerful double Arabian, followed by a double back and double pike. For her last pass, she intentionally threw a basic layout, as this routine was, more or less, meant to help Hernandez get back into the rhythm of competing again. The exercise ultimately scored a 12.050, with plenty of room for improvement and upgrades.

In her first competitive beam routine since earning her Olympic silver medal on the apparatus in 2016, Hernandez scored a 13.950 with what she says is a “watered down” routine vs. what she’ll do this summer.

“I used to be really nervous, like full breakdown, tears, before beam,” Hernandez said of being back on the apparatus. “Now, it’s kind of like my safe space, so I was really excited to get back.”

Her routine highlights included an opening front pike, back handspring to layout step out flight series, aerial to split jump to straddle jump connection, and a double pike dismount to finish.

Hernandez said after the meet that she feels like a new person in her return, just with “old skills in [her] body,” so she feels like she has a one-up on herself.

“I felt really excited and almost calm and composed on the equipment, which is not something I felt when I was 16,” Hernandez said after admitting it was initially “terrifying” to get back on the competition floor.

Next up, Hernandez will look to make her all-around return. The decision to do just beam and floor was made in the week leading up to Winter Cup, and now that she has a meet under her belt, she says she’ll be competing bars and vault “really soon.”

When asked about upgrades that she obviously has waiting in the wings, Hernandez first quoted a TikTok trend saying, “This is Fight Club. I can’t tell you anything. I’m not even in it. Baby, I’m just a hallucination… But yeah, no, definitely don’t want to tell you [what I’ve got planned], but there’s one skill that I’m working on that isn’t consistent yet, but if we can get it consistent, I think everyone will be very excited about it and it’ll be kind of a surprise.”

The Hunger Games begin again

With the restart of the Olympic year, the U.S. women are in familiar territory: six Olympic team spots and enough talent to field B and C squads that could sweep the podium – if that were a thing.

With Jade Carey mathematically clinching her individual Olympic berth via the Individual Apparatus World Cup series last year and Simone Biles a virtual lock for the main four-person team, the embarrassment of riches that is the U.S. women’s senior field will now spend the next five or so months trying to prove they’re deserving of one of the remaining four Olympic team spots.

Sunisa Lee looked like an Olympic medal-contender despite only competing bars and beam this weekend. Her bars score of 15.050 was the highest event score on any apparatus for the women this weekend, and her 14.250 on beam was good enough for bronze on the event.

The 2019 World uneven bars bronze medalist threw her “backup routine” on her way to the event title. The set included a Nabieva to Bhardwaj connection – one of the hardest bars connections in the world – a Van Leeuwen, and a massive piked Jaeger to Pak to Maloney to inbar Gienger combination. She finished with a full-twisting double back dismount.

On connecting the difficult Bhardwaj out of her Nabieva, Lee said, “After my Nabieva, that’s when I really know… If it’s off, then I know to switch my routine, but if it’s on, then I know to keep doing that routine.”

A solid all-arounder and the 2019 World silver medalist on floor, the 17-year-old Auburn commit isn’t quite ready to compete on the other two events, saying “I haven’t done floor and vault in a little bit.” At the moment, her training for those events is focused on the TumblTrak and trampoline, “working on air awareness.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult for me to get back [in the all-around], especially because I’ve been getting a lot stronger in the gym, so my legs are going to be refreshed when I come back.”

Other notable performances from the weekend included first-year seniors Blakely and Konnor McClain scoring 14.500 and 14.000 on beam, respectively.

Riley McCusker made her competitive return on vault, bars, and beam, posting her highest score of the weekend on bars (14.650).

McCusker’s Arizona Sunrays teammate Carey was set to compete in the all-around but scratched on floor last minute. The Olympic qualifier performed the 6.0 D-score Cheng vault and earned a 9.000 E-score for a 14.800 final tally. Her improved bars set went 13.600, and in what would be her final routine of the meet, she scored a 13.550 on beam.

As the top four finishers in the senior all-around competition, Chiles, Jones, Lee, and Lippeatt all automatically qualified to the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s National Team.

The rest of the team – which will almost certainly include petitions from Biles, Morgan Hurd, and other gymnasts who couldn’t attend this weekend’s meet – will be named at a later date.

Relive the 2021 Winter Cup – Women’s competition with Gymnastics Now’s live blogs from day 1 and day 2. Click here for full results.

You can watch routines from the event here.