Morgan Hurd making 2019 debut this weekend
United States gymnast Morgan Hurd knows a thing or two about peaking at the right time.
Both of her medal-winning trips to the World Championships have come after shaky performances at the U.S. Championships.
“We just know when to have harder days, down days. That’s OK for a few weeks,” Hurd told the Olympic Channel of her uncanny ability to peak. “That just means you’re going to rise up.”
And that's what she's done.
Her surprise 2017 World all-around title came after she finished sixth at the U.S. Championships only a couple months prior.
Last year, Hurd had an impressive World Championships in Doha, where she helped the U.S. team to a gold medal before claiming bronze in the all-around and silver on the floor exercise, after finishing third at the U.S. nationals and fourth at the USA’s World team selection event.
That’s why, when she takes the floor this weekend at the Tokyo World Cup (6/7 April, live on Olympic Channel), she’ll be focused not on a podium finish but a return trip to Japan's capital in 2020, for her first Olympic Games.
Keeping things clean
Another factor complicating her first competitive appearance since winning three medals at the World Championships last October is that 17-year-old Hurd underwent surgery to remove two more chips from her elbow, according to coach Slava Glazounov.
“She had another surgery this December,” he said. “The last three to four months, we’ve spent the time cleaning up and recovering.”
Adding, “She’s bouncing back pretty well.”
That surgery – her third on the same elbow – is why fans will see much of the same competitive program they saw from Hurd in Doha though she does plan to debut a new series on the balance beam: a standing layout step out, layout step out.
Hurd’s World all-around title came just .100 ahead of Canadian Ellie Black, whose all-around medal at home in Montreal was a first for Team Canada. A fall off the uneven bars dropped Black to 12th place last year, however.
They’ll face off in Tokyo on Sunday.
Beyond Black, Hurd’s biggest competition is likely to come from hometown favorites Asuka Teramoto, a two-time Olympian who has finished top ten in the world previously, and teammate Aiko Sugihara, who finished sixth in the all-around at the 2017 Worlds.
Newcomer to the senior ranks, Ksenia Klimenko of Russia, could make a splash. The 15-year-old is the 2018 Youth Olympic Games uneven bars champion though she had a disappointing all-around competition in Buenos Aires. She was a favorite to continue the Russian streak of Youth Olympic all-around gold (Victoria Komova and Seda Tutkhalyan won in 2010 and 2014, respectively) but errors on the vault and balance beam dropped her to fifth.
On the men's side, Olympic champion and 2017 World all-around bronze medalist Kenzo Shirai of Japan will go to head-to-head with American Sam Mikulak who finished fifth in the all-around at least year's Worlds.
An embarrassment of riches
“I want to have clean competitions [in 2019] so I can stay on the radar for 2020,” Hurd told Olympic Channel of her goals for the season ahead.
That radar will be crowded, with the U.S. having a seemingly endless talent pool in women’s gymnastics. Despite Hurd’s impressive resumé, competition for a return trip to Tokyo next year for the Olympics will be fierce, to say the least.
The U.S. women have already qualified a four-woman team for the Games and appear likely to add an additional two individual spots. Barring unforeseen circumstances, four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles is presumed to have sewn up one of the tickets to Tokyo.
Hurd will have to contend with the likes of Leanne Wong, a first year senior who had an impressive debut earlier this year at the American Cup, and close friend Sunisa Lee, who posted the fourth best score in the all-around so far this year a competition in Italy.
This weekend’s World Cup appearance will be an early step toward making her case for the Olympics, though Hurd knows the importance of peaking at the right moment and is keeping everything in perspective.
“I just hit to a clean, four-for-four competition and do my best,” Hurd said.
“And have fun.”