Morgan Hurd had something to prove.
Six months after missing out on the 2019 World Championships, Hurd came to Milwaukee and the 2020 American Cup on a mission to impress as she opens her Olympic season.
"I have to prove that I'm still worthy of an Olympic spot after missing out on Worlds last year," Hurd said yesterday after practice.
That disappointment, which she and coach Slava Glazounov said took months to move on from, can start to become a distant memory after the 18-year-old was solid in all four rotations Saturday.
Her win at the first of four International Gymnastics Federation all-around World Cup events will give her the momentum - and jolt of confidence - she had hoped for, as she held off American teammate Kayla DiCello 55.832 to 55.132. Hitomi Hatakeda of Japan took third with 53.799.
The 2017 World all-around champion, Hurd opened her competition with a strong effort on vault, earning a 14.333. She followed that up with a 14.100 on the uneven bars where she added two new elements since last season.
In the third rotation, Hurd was nearly flawless on the balance beam until a leap toward the end of her routine caused her to check her balance. She posted a 13.733.
Hurd went into the final rotation with a lead of 1.467 over Canada's Elsabeth Black. But DiCello was ending on the higher scoring vault, meaning Hurd had to deliver.
Displaying a new, upbeat floor routine, Hurd's smile radiated as she earned a 13.666 and her second American Cup title.
'A watershed event'
After facing a crisis of confidence, Hurd could have crumbled. Instead, she set to work almost immediately after returning from September's U.S. World Selection Camp, determined to make every moment count.
"I feel like I've just been in the gym like all the time, working so hard," said Hurd. "I go in and basically exhaust myself to the point where I'm like crawling out of the gym and I don't even want to drive home."
Her coach agrees.
"She’s been going all out. She doesn’t want to miss a day," said Glazounov. "She doesn’t want to leave without accomplishing the daily workouts that are scheduled. She’s working very hard."
That work has clearly made an impression, even before Saturday's victory.
"We saw it at the training camp last week," said Tom Forster, U.S. women's national team high performance coordinator. "She was a new person, even her body language. She owned the place."
Hurd finished second at that camp, behind Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic and 19-time World champion, who has set an untouchable standard in the sport both at home and abroad.
That second place verification, coupled with her American Cup win, send a clear signal to Forster.
"I think this was a watershed event for her really. This was her opportunity to state who she is as an athlete, not to be ignored," he said "I think she felt ignored for not making the world team last fall. You never know how the athletes are going to handle that.
"Some get really sad, and it kind of crumbles their self-confidence," he continued, "and others get really mad and do something about it. That’s exactly what she did."
Mikulak wins men's title
On the men's side, as expected, it was a battle between Olympic parallel bars champion and 2019 World all-around bronze medallist Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine and two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak.
The 26-year-old Ukrainian seemed to be in the driver's seat after Mikulak struggled on the dismount of his pommel horse routine. But then, Verniaiev slipped off the parallel bars and stumbled back on a floor exercise tumbling pass, opening the door for Mikulak.
He took advantage of the opportunity, earning a 14.333 in the final rotation to easily clinch the all-around title with an 85.332. Verniaiev finished second, 83.064, followed by Britain's James Hall at 82.999.
"I had to fight a lot today and never give up all the way through the end," Mikulak said afterward. "That was the big accomplishment for the day, not incurring a one-point deduction."