Morgan Hurd stands out in any gymnastics crowd.
Sure, the Middletown resident is the only women’s gymnast not named Simone Biles to win a world championship in the all-around since 2011, but she does so wearing something rarely seen in the sporting world these days: glasses.
The 18-year-old just rallied to finish 4th at the United States Gymnastics Championships last weekend, (including a strong performance on the parallel bars that impressed the NBC broadcast team) putting her in a position to qualify for her third straight World Championships that take place in Germany in October.
Biles once again won the championship, including a triple-twisting, double somersault on floor exercise that wowed the world, including Hurd.
“Obviously, we’re all trying to catch Simone, but at the moment it’s very difficult because she’s just kind of superhuman and insane, the greatest of all time. We’re all not like her, in gymnastics, everyone is so different. What works for one gymnast might not work for another. We might not be able to do that crazy tumbling and have the highest difficulty on all four events, so we try to climb up in little ways like execution.”
Hurd won the 2017 World Championship when Biles took a year off, and then finished 3rd last year. She said she can’t let Simone be a complete distraction to her game, and that in many ways, they’re teammates more than competitors.
“We’re all really like sisters as we spend so much time on the national team. We really want the best for each other. Ultimately, it’s not up to you where you’re going to stand in the rankings. You can do your absolute best, but it’s up to what everyone else is doing, and how the judges are scoring that day.”
Morgan said her pathway to the elite level of gymnastics started after she was adopted from her native Wuzhou, China as a toddler, and was taken as a three-year-old into recreational classes. She eventually met coach Slava Glazounov of First State Gymnastics in Newark.
“I was like every little girl when I was younger and started out class dreaming of going to the Olympics. I always had it through my mind going through classes and even Level 4 Compulsories, but I guess Slava really started to really see something different in me when I reached the end of my Level 5 season.”
She built on the various levels of youth gymnastics, but it wasn’t enough for her.
“After my Level 10 season, I really wanted to go to the elite level, and I first tried out for the hopes elite, which is basically pre-elite. I made that, but then I really wanted to do elite, so we decided to go to the qualifier, and I made it on my first try and qualified for the championships that year.”
It was a rapid ascent, but Morgan said that comes down to determination.
“It’s really just practice. You have to go in on the days even when you don’t really want to go. I know I have those days constantly where I don’t really want to be here, but I push myself to be here because I know it will be the absolute best for me in the end.”
One decision Morgan had to make was how to deal with her reduced eyesight. She found compact lenses weren’t the right answer for her.
“I tried compacts in the past but they irritated my eyes. When I did have them I’d have to go to the bathroom and put them back in and that was a pain in the butt. So, this is just the easiest solution, if they break I always have an extra pair.”
That’s not to say wearing them didn’t come without a fight from Morgan.
“I didn’t think it was cool to wear glasses when I was younger. I hated them. I didn’t want to wear them, and I didn’t wear them on the weekends, only at school. And I didn’t wear them in gym until late in my Level 5 season.”
But perhaps the bigger question, how in the world do they stay on in a sport where you spend a good chunk of your time flipping and upside down?
“I have an elastic strap that attached to the back of the legs and the back of my head.”
And Morgan’s not the only gymnastic competing at the national level. Her First State Gymnastics teammates Love Birt and Sydney Morris both finished in the top 20 in the Junior Division at the US Championships, giving hope another wave is coming behind Hurd.
“I don’t think it necessarily fires me up, but I strive to be a good influence and hopefully set a good example and inspire the next generation.”
Her success has gone somewhat under the radar though. Despite being a rare world champion in any sport from Delaware, Hurd said her celebrity status is still pretty muted.
“Not necessarily, it’s very few and thin that recognize me in Delaware. It’s okay, because it makes me kind of awkward, but I don’t mind it. It’s super strange to me, still. It’s more that when I go to gymnastics meets that I get recognized.”
If Hurd can get to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and shine, her facial recognition might fly to levels that she’s quite familiar with on a tumbling pass.