By Nick McCarvel
Morgan Hurd’s life hasn’t changed much in the last couple of months. She still practices for nearly seven hours each day, takes online classes and hangs out with her friends on weekends (lots of Xbox Just Dance parties). She also still loves Harry Potter and lives in Delaware and dreams of one day going to the Olympics.
The only thing that’s really changed is that – in early October in Montreal – she became world all-around champion in women’s artistic gymnastics.
That’s a minor detail though, right?
“Even now, when people say it, it’s so crazy to hear,” a cheery Hurd says of being called a world champ. “I mean, like… it has settled in, but it still feels strange! When people say it or I see it somewhere, I’m like ‘Oh yeah. Right.’”
Hurd soared, tumbled and held her nerve at the World Artistic Gymnastics Chammpionships when the spotlight was suddenly thrust on her after teammate and favorite Ragan Smith had to withdraw from the all-around final due an ankle injury minutes before it began.
But since securing the U.S. women’s team its fifth consecutive world title, Hurd has stayed grounded. In fact, according to coach Slava Glazounov, there was little time for the 16 year old to soak in what she had just accomplished.
“We did not give her that much time to rest,” he explains. “We slowed down a little bit, but no complete rest.”
Hurd doesn’t seem to mind. In mid-November, she attended a U.S. national team camp in Huntsville, Texas, and has since been back in Delaware at First State Gymnastics with Glazounov, going through her usual routine again and hitting the gym, focusing on the 2018 season to come, where she says a big goal is to get back to the world championships.
Glazounov says if anything has really shifted it is the expectations that Hurd puts on herself: She knows she’s the star of every camp, every practice and every turn she takes, and often that can feel like the weight of the world on her shoulders, particularly when Hurd won Worlds the way that she did.
“She puts a lot of pressure on herself,” he says. “It’s almost a little more stressful until she gets used to this. She feels like she has to perform to the top-notch. We try to explain to her she’s not a robot: You have to slow down because you’re going to have your ups and downs. That’s a normal part of training.”
Hurd knows the pressure is self-imposed, but can you blame her?
“I think I’m expected to do even better now,” she tells USA Gymnastics in a phone interview late last week. “I think (the pressure) is mostly internal right now.”
While Glazounov and company have aimed to keep things as even-keeled as possible for Hurd, there are other subtleties (and not-so subtleties) that go with being a world champion: She’s done a couple of autograph sessions at her home gym that have served as meet-and-greets for ogling young gymnasts (and their parents) and she’s received Twitter love from some of her favorite authors, including J.K. Rowling and John Green, the author of “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Green even sent Hurd an autographed copy of his new book, “Turtles All the Way Down”, which she is currently reading. “It’s really good,” she confirms excitedly.
While there is no doubt of a new feeling of pressure, Hurd is as grounded of a teenager as they come. Aside from the Xbox, she and her friends like to hang out and go shopping. Glazounov says she is witty and sarcastic in practice and her social media is both at once genuine but also self-deprecating. “UPDATE: @johngreen liked my tweet. brb gotta go cry some more,” she tweeted last month.
That’s not to say that since Worlds Hurd has been doing anything but working hard. The next focus for her is national team camp in January, then on the 2018 AT&T American Cup, set for early March in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
“She still trains like there is no tomorrow, very hard, every day,” Glazounov confirms. “She’s training hard and actually looking good (in practice).”
Hurd knows that the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo are still over two and a half years away, so while that’s a far-away goal, she’s focusing more on the immediate, trying to take things step by step.
“I just want to focus on one goal at a time,” she says. “(Winning Worlds) does feel like a little added pressure. I’m going to keep training as I am and keep working hard so I can achieve what I want to.”
It’s a steady approach for an athlete that went into the last team camp before Worlds this year just hoping she’d perform well enough to make the U.S. team. She did. And then some.
Not that she can’t bask in being world champ at least a little, too.
“It was amazing!” she shares. “This is what I’ve been working for. This is what I’ve wanted for such a long time. It all felt amazing.”
Now the focus turns to 2018 and what’s to come, but there is another goal she’d like for the not-too-distant future: See her favorite musical, Hamilton.
“I want to see it so badly!” she says giddily.
Ask her to pick her favorite among Rowling, Green or Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda?
“That’s impossible!” she concludes.
Some decisions are just too hard to make – even for a world champion.