When USA Gymnastics announced its lineup for the 2022 World Championships, one of the compelling storylines that immediately emerged regarding this team was Jordan Chiles. She is a former Olympian who will be competing at the World Championships for the first time in her career. Chiles has already competed in the most prestigious competition in all of of gymnastics, but until now the second most prestigious competition in the sport has eluded her. This led to gymnastics fans reaching out to me and asking how many other American gymnasts have had a career like Jordan Chiles where they reached the Olympics, but not the World Championships?
Ironically, this isn’t even the first time I’ve written an article on this subject. When Laurie Hernandez attempted a comeback just before the 2021 Olympics fans asked a very similar question pondering if Laurie would be the first 2x Olympian who never attended the World Championships. The answer was absolutely not.
What viewers who read the Laurie Hernandez article may recall is that the trend of gymnasts attending the Olympics, but not the World Championships used to be a highly common occurrence before the modern era. The trend was so common in the past that when counting all American gymnasts who competed for Team USA at the World Championships or Olympics, 34% of them made their first appearance at the Olympics and not the World Championships.
This was also common amongst non-American gymnasts as well and one statistic I’d emphasize is that women’s gymnastics once had three consecutive Olympic All-Around Championships who won the Olympic All-Around title before they ever appeared at the World Championships.
1976: Nadia Comaneci (Romania)
1980: Elena Davydova (Soviet Union)
1984: Mary Lou Retton (United States)
There was also Ludmilla Turischeva who won the Olympic All-Around in 1972, but it was the 1968 Olympics where she made her debut in a major competition. As for Jordan Chiles, she is actually the 59th American gymnast to compete in the Olympics before the World Championships.
In this article I am going to talk about the 58 Americans who came before her.
Before I continue, I want to stress that as crazy as it sounds, there is some subjectivity to this question. Normally this would be a simple “yes or no” question as to whether or not a gymnast competed in a particular World Championships. But here is where things get complicated:
A) In 1980 four American gymnasts made the Olympic team who had not previously competed at the World Championships. But the Olympics were boycotted and three of these gymnasts returned for the 1981 World Championships team.
B) In 1992 Dominique Dawes made her debut in a World Championships, but a World Championships that was held in an Olympic year under an experimental scheduling format that would later be discontinued. Creating an entry in the data where it is of debatable consistency with the rest of the results.
C) In 2004 Annia Hatch represented Team USA at the Olympics after a nationality change. Annia had previously competed for Cuba at the World Championships, but has never represented the American program in World Championship competition.
The pre-1962 era:
One of the reasons this is such a common trend in American gymnastics history is that the United States did not compete in the World Championships before 1962. This means that of the 30 women who made an Olympic team for the American program from 1936 to 1960, every single one of them was forced to make their debut at the Olympics.
Jennie Caputo, Irma Haubold, Margaret Duff, Ada Lunardoni, Adelaide Meyer, Mary Wright, Marie Kibler, Connie Caruccio-Lenz, Laddie Bakanic, Helen Schifano, Anita Simonis, Dorothy Dalton, Marian Barone, Clara Schroth-Lomady, Meta Elste, Doris Kirkman, Ruth Grulkowski, Ruth Topalian, Dorothy Dalton, Marie Hoesly, Joyce Racek, Jackie Klein, Judy Howe, Sandra Ruddick, Sharon Richardson, Teri Montefusco, Muriel Grossfeld, Doris Brause (Fuchs), Gail Sontegrath, and Betty Maycock.
In fact, only the last four gymnasts on this list (names bolded) ever competed at the World Championships.
At the 1962 World Championships Avis Tibber and Marie McNalther became the first Americans ever to compete at a World Championships without previously competing at the Olympics.
The 1962-1988 Era
Now you would think this is where the “doing the Jordan Chiles” trend would decline in popularity, but even after the United States started competing at the World Championships this trend didn’t come close to dying out.
From 1962 to 1988 there were 64 Americans who were formally named to either an Olympic or World Championships team. This figure includes the members of the 1980 Olympic boycott team. But for 27 of these gymnasts, they made their debut at the Olympics and not the World Championships. This means that from 1962-1988, a staggering 42% of all American gymnasts who were named to a starting lineup had their first such lineup appearance occur at the Olympics and not the World Championships.
The 27 gymnasts are listed below. The first four gymnasts (names bolded) are carried over from the pre-1962 era since they competed into the next era. The four gymnasts slated to make their debut at the 1980 Olympics but denied that opportunity because of a boycott are shown bolded and underlined.
Muriel Grossfeld, Doris Brause (Fuchs), Gail Sontegrath, Betty Maycock, Dale McClements, Linda Metheny, Janie Speaks, Marie Walther, Kathleen Corrigan, Colleen Mulvihill, Wendy Cluff, Cathy Rigby, Roxanne Pierce, Nancy Thies, Kolleen Casey, Carrie Englert, Debbie Willcox, Leslie Wolfsberger, Luci Collins, Amy Koopman, Julianne McNamara, Tracee Talavera, Mary Lou Retton, Michelle Dusserre, Hope Spivey, Brandy Johnson, and Chelle Stack.
It is only when we get to the 1989 World Championships that the trend effectively begins to die out and pivots to becoming a rare occurrence. Not one gymnast met the criteria at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. Although as previously mentioned, Dominique Dawes is an odd example who fails to meet the criteria on a technicality where an apparatus-only World Championships was held shortly before the Olympics in 1992 and 1996.
But in a strange ironic twist, following the 1990s Team USA has had exactly one gymnast on each Olympic team who did not compete in a previous World Championships.
2000: Tasha Schwikert
2004: Courtney McCool
2008: Bridget Sloan
2012: Kyla Ross
2016: Laurie Hernandez
2021: Jordan Chiles
This completely coincidental pattern has held up for six consecutive Olympics and could continue into Paris-2024.
As for gymnasts who competed at the Olympics but never competed at the World Championships at any point in their careers, counting Luci Collins of the 1980 boycott it has occurred 17 times in the American program from 1964-present. But from 1989-present it has only occurred on three occasions.
Janie Speaks, Marie Walther, Kathleen Corrigan, Colleen Mulvihill, Roxanne Pierce, Nancy Thies, Kolleen Casey, Carrie Englert, Debbie Willcox, Leslie Wolfsberger, Luci Collins, Mary Lou Retton, Michelle Dusserre, Hope Spivey, Courtney McCool, Laurie Hernandez, and Jordan Chiles
But now that she has officially been named to a World Championships team, Jordan Chiles is on track to have her name removed from this list in less than two weeks.
2 thoughts on “Doing the Jordan Chiles: American Gymnasts Who Went to the Olympics Before the World Championships”
Mary Lou Retton never competed in a World Championships!
Kyla Ross really could have benefited from going to that Worlds. She could have made a name for herself. I hate the rule that stopped age-eligible gymnasts for the Olympics from competing at Worlds. They need to change it back.