Life on the Balance Beam: Our Interview with Delaware Olympic Hopeful Morgan Hurd

Delaware’s Morgan Hurd took a break from practice today to catch us up on life as an Olympic hopeful

Since our update on 2017 World Champion and Olympic hopeful Morgan Hurd last week, the Middletown resident passed an important test in her journey to represent the US at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

That came at the US Gymnastics Competition, where the 4′ 9″ gymnast placed fourth in the all-around category and earned silver on the uneven bar, with a performance that wowed both the judges and NBC Sports broadcasters.

And on Sunday — and for the 4th year in a row — the Delawarean was named to the US Gymnastics National Team, which means that once again she’s among the best 10 ‘senior’ gymnasts in the country and one step closer to achieving her dream of landing a spot on the 4-person US Olympic Team in 2020.

Hurd (first row, center) was named for the 4th time on Sunday to the US National Team

Now back in Delaware, Hurd is spending hours every day back at First State Gymnastics in Newark with Slava Glazounov, her longtime coach who says he was “beyond proud” of her comeback performance at the US Gymnastics Championships. The pair are now working toward putting the ‘senior elite’ gymnast in a position to participate once again in the World Championships, which will take place in Germany this October.

In the whole country, there are only 17 senior elites and 26 junior elites. First State Gymnastics has three of them. Hurd is their first senior elite gymnast.

The gymnastics community refers to Hurd as a great all-around gymnast. And Coach Slava says, “Morgi is good in every event.” But he says over the next few weeks they will try to add a different dismount to the beam exercise, “clean up the bars a little bit,” and add an additional skill to the floor routine that will up Hurd’s level of ‘difficulty,’ one of the elements measured by judges.

Hurd was adopted from China by her mom Sherri, and she’s been training at First State Gymnastics since she was six. The gym was filled to capacity today with dozens of young athletes with aspirations of their own. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to track her down. Hurd is on the road at national and international competitions a lot.

But like clockwork, she shows up at the gym after each competition, and that’s where we found the happy, confident teen this afternoon. Coincidentally, a producer and videographer from the Olympic Channel was also there, filming another episode for the next installment of their new series “All Around,” which focuses on the lives of three Olympic hopefuls, including Morgan Hurd. The Olympics is all she’s dreamed about since the age of three.

Morgan Hurd says First State HGymnastics Head Coach Slava Glazounov is more like a father to her

TSD: You had such a strong showing at the US Gymnastics Championships this past weekend, winning 4th place overall, plus an added surprise of being voted co-sportsman of the year. You must be proud.

Morgan Hurd: I’m so honored to have that title (of co-sportsman), especially because it wasn’t just chosen. I wasn’t just selected for it by random. It was more athletes chose me. So my friends actually nominated me for this. And I’m glad that I could kind of be almost a team leader for them and really get them excited for competitions and help them throughout.

 

TSD: And you once again made the National Team.

Yes, I’m super excited. This is my fourth year, I believe on the National Team. And it’s always an incredible honor to represent the US.

Hurd came in 2nd place on the uneven bars at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships. Photo: Morgan Hurd’s Instagram page.

TSD: In just a few weeks you will take off with the National Team to the selection camp in Florida, where a committee will decide who among you who will participate at Worlds. Given your 1st and 3rd place finishes at that event in 2017 and 2018, you must be hopeful about your prospects this year.

MH: So actually, I have a camp and national team camp in two weeks. And then two weeks after that, I have the World selection camp. And then hopefully, if I’m selected onto the world’s team, I’ll go to Worlds.

TSD: What do you think the Selection Committee at Worlds will be looking for?

MH: I can’t really tell you what would be going on through the selection committees’ head. It’s what they decide that they think would be best for Team USA. They’re going to most likely look at our top scores throughout the season and put those together to see what our maximum team score would be at Worlds.

And then I think it’s going to be a factor of who looks the best during practices and who looks good during competition, and who they think is going to last throughout the whole month. But they could be looking for whoever had the best meet that day, or they could be looking for who has the most experience, who looks the best in practice. So, there are various factors that go into play there.

Hurd spends hours each day practicing at First State Gymnastics in Newark – her ‘home away from home’

TSD: What strengths would you say you could bring to the US team at the World Championships?

MH: I think I could potentially bring about a decent vault score, when it’s three up, three count. Perhaps a bar score, because I did place second overall for bars this past weekend (at the US Gymnastics Championships). And if my (balance) beam can go like this past weekend then maybe I could bring a good beam score.

But I really think I bring a certain look. Because I love to entertain, especially on floor (the floor exercise), and I like to get the crowd excited.

Morgan Hurd - Lima, Peru

Team USA wins gold in Lima, Peru – July 28, 2019. Photo Morgan Hurd Instagram page.

TSD: This year’s US National Team seems to have quite a lot of depth – many with titles of their own. What kind of pressure does that put on you going forward?

MH: There definitely is a lot of pressure because you could take any one of these girls to the World’s team and they’re still going to win, they’re still going to qualify for the top round. So the pressure is really on to be even better than before, just because the US does have so much depth.

TSD: Are you planning any upgrades or levels of difficulty to your routines heading into Selection Camp?

MH: I’m not super sure yet. We are going to finalize routines this week, and I will just come into the gym every single day and just work on that one routine and not have to think about it. The thing with gymnastics is “Difficulty” can definitely help your score. But if you don’t perform it well, it’s going to lower your “Execution” score. So it might not even be worth it to do. It might be better to a lower difficulty routine and hit that clean.

 

TSD: Worlds is unquestionably the largest stage other than the Olympics. Will you have other opportunities to impress the Olympics selection judges after Worlds?

MH: There’ll be still more competitions next year, various of World Cups, Pacific Rims, and then another US Classic Championships and then Olympic trials. So the Olympic team will not be chosen until next June.

TSD: What has First State Gymnastics and Coach Slava meant to you?

MH: This gym has meant everything to me. I’ve been here since I was six years old, and it’s basically my home. And Slava means everything to me. He’s more of a father than a coach to me. And I’ve been with him again since I was basically six years old. So, he’s been in my life for a very long time.

Hurd stumbled in two tumbling passes in one of her floor routines at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships. But Coach Glazounov is ‘beyond proud’ of her and says Hurd showed that “once again that she can return after she makes a mistake. She has nerves of steel and she proved to everyone that she can do it.”

TSD: Are there any other sports you’ve ever done or still do outside of gymnastics? Do you play any sports recreationally?

MH: Well, when I was younger, my mom put me in a bunch of different sports stars to keep me active. See what I like I was in ballet, hip hop, Tap, soccer, tee-ball ice skating. And I dropped all those obviously. And then I do hot yoga on the weekends — just kind of to stay loose and stretch out.

TSD: What has the travel been like with your home base being Delaware?

MH: I love traveling. I love the lifestyle of just going, going, going. I actually almost prefer traveling than being at home. Just because I like I just really like that lifestyle. And most of the time when I am traveling, I get to go see my friends on the National Team, and that’s always a lot of fun. 

TSD: Did you ever consider moving out of state to train at another gym with perhaps other elite senior gymnasts? (Hurd is the only senior gymnast at First State Gymnastics.)

MH: No, I always just thought of First State as my home, and I never wanted to leave. I started my elite career here. And I know for sure I want to finish it here. We have two other Junior International elites currently, Love Birt and Sydney Morris. And then this past year, we actually had a few Hopes Gymnasts, which is kind of like the level before Junior International. 

TSD: With so many eyes on you, do you think you have had an influence on other little girls in Delaware who might be interested in the sport?

MH: I think it definitely it’s piqued some interest. I know that sometimes after competitions, our enrollment goes up a little bit. And I’m glad that I can hopefully inspire the next generation.

Morgan Hurd - Bronze at Worlds

Hurd won bronze at the 2018 World Championships. Observing gold medal winner Simone Biles’ performance was like “watching history unfold literally feet away from me.”

TSD: How does it feel to have that bit of weight on you, to be a role model for some of the younger girls?

MH: I don’t feel too much of a weight just because ever since I was starting out – even in my earliest days – I always wanted to make sure I was a good role model for the little ones because I knew that they looked up to me and I wanted to set a good example.

TSD: Does your love of reading have any influence on your level of performance? What are you reading now? And we hear that you have a new friendship with Britain’s most famous author – J.K. Rowling.

MH: I do love reading. Reading does distract me from the day going ahead so I don’t overthink everything. I’m currently reading The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. And yes, J. K. Rowling sent me a Tweet! It was just so crazy I still can’t believe it happened!

 

TSD: As a homeschooled student, presumably you still had to take a foreign language and do chem and bio labs.

MH: School has never been my favorite thing. I studied French. I did online labs and some little in-home ones. Not sure what I want to study just yet in college.

TSD: This gym is a stone’s throw from Main Street in Newark. Any favorite dining spots? And what kind of eater are you?

MH: I pretty much eat anything. A few of my Main Street favorites are Brew Ha Ha! and Playa Bowl.

TSD: Other than First State Gymnastics, what’s your favorite thing about living in Delaware?

MH: The tax-free shopping!

Morgan Hurd - Olympic Channel

The Olympic Channel follows three of the world’s top gymnasts, including Morgan Hurd, as they balance life as teenagers with dreams of winning gold at Tokyo 2020.

TSD: You might be the only elite senior gymnast to wear glasses. That’s become a bit of a trademark for you.

MH: I never really think about them. They’re just always there and I have a strap that connects to the legs of them at the back of my head. And I always have an extra pair if they break. I have used contacts in the past, but they irritated my eyes, and taking them on and off was a pain in the butt.

TSD: What’s your opinion about the reduced size of the gymnastics teams (from 5 to 4) at the 2020 Olympics?

MH: I definitely think it was a very harsh decision to decide that just because there’s so many girls, and the Olympics only come around for every four years. And we’re not like other sports at all. Our peak is our peak window for most is so short, and especially when we’re so young. We’re not like other sports. It’s very hard to last in this sport past the age of 20 – 22. It’s very difficult and you hardly see it, especially in the US. So, I definitely don’t think that was maybe the best decision.

Morgan Hurd - Balance Beam

Morgan Hurd – USA Gymnastics GK Classic in the Senior Division in Columbus, July 2018

TSD: So you’re headed to the Florida Gators! Was that an easy choice? 

MH: I just loved it. It felt like such a family atmosphere, so I fell in love with it and the campus. And I love that it’s kind of close to home so I can easily fly back. And yes, I got quite a few offers. But I mainly looked at Florida, UCLA and Utah. But I ultimately loved Florida over everything.

TSD: Is your intention after college to turn pro? And of course, that’s not your only goal.

MH: Yes, I would like to turn pro. But 2020 is my ultimate goal, and I’ll literally do anything to achieve it. An Olympic gold medal around my neck, that’s all I can dream about.

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About the Contributor

Christy Fleming

Christy Fleming

The managing editor of TownSquareDelaware.com, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.