Middletown teen has golden victory at World Gymnastics Championships

 

Middletown resident Morgan Hurd performs on the parallel bars at the World Gymnastics Championships in Montreal, Canada. (Submitted photos/First State Gymnastics)

NEWARK — She left the country relatively unknown and returned home a world champion.

Middletown’s Morgan Hurd, 16, earned stardom by winning the recent all-around competition at the World Gymnastics Championships in Montreal.

The rise was stunning, considering her sixth-place finish in all-around at the U.S. championships in August. She made the four-member national team after an impressive performance at a camp that followed.

Minutes before the all-around competition, Hurd replaced reigning U.S. champion Ragan Smith, who suffered an ankle injury and withdrew.

“I clearly wasn’t favored to win and some people questioned why I was on the team in the first place,” she said.

By managing to “stay calm and stay in the moment” Hurd rose to the top of a field of the best talent from Canada, Russia and elsewhere in the world.

Just after going gold on Oct. 6, Hurd tweeted on her morgihurd Twitter account”

“what an incredible way to end such an amazing trip! I feel so blessed to be walking away with two medals from my first worlds! so honored have competed with such an amazing group of athletes. congrats to everyone and I wish the best for all of those on the road to recovery.”

Morgan Hurd, 16, poses with her gold medal earned at the World Gymnastics Championships earlier this month.

Two days later, the tweet had received 149 comments and 11,900 likes.

Her greatest thrill was when idol Nadia Comaneci — a 1976 Olympian famous for her perfect 10s at the same Olympic Stadium — draped the gold medal around her neck.

“I was thinking ‘Wow, I can’t believe she is in front of my face right now’,” Hurd recollected.

In a brief conversation, Ms. Comanechi advised “to keep doing what I’m doing,” the world champ said.

Such was the big-time setting in Canada, where the crowds latched on to the fast rising star who also earned a silver medal in the balance beam.

“It certainly was an unbelievable experience,” said her coach Slava Glazounov, a former Russian national team member who operates First State Gymnastics in Newark.

“She couldn’t go anywhere without crowds of people gathering around her and seeking autographs.”

The 4-foot-5, 85-pound athlete didn’t shy away from the rush of attention.

“I think she’s quite mature as a 16-year-old, she’s well read and educated, and handles pressure very well,” Mr. Glazounov said when describing the phenom’s reaction to suddenly having so many more fans.

The Harry Potter fan was saluted by author J.K. Rowling, who tweeted “Congratulations Morgan!”

The celebrity status hasn’t abated since arriving back in the First State, either through the media attention or friends and supporters wanting to share their admiration with her.

That’s OK, she said, because “it’s crazy that so many people support me and I am thankful for having it.”

According to Mr. Glazounov, “She goes easy and is relaxed about it, and she speaks freely about what’s just happened.”

Mr. Glazounov said the world champion is best when performing high degree of difficulty skills on the floor exercise and beam.

When asked to describe Hurd, her coach answered “She’s light on her feet, she’s an elegant gymnast.

“She has the skills to take on high degrees of difficulty, especially on the bars and beams.”

The journey ahead

There’s still plenty of work ahead before the ultimate goal of competing in the 2020 Olympics comes into focus. The Tokyo, Japan games are so far away, in fact, that they’re never between athlete and coach unless someone else asks.

Middletown resident Morgan Hurd performs on the parallel bars at the World Gymnastics Championships in Montreal, Canada. (Submitted photos/First State Gymnastics)

“Clearly, everyone who has done gymnastics dreams at some point of being in the Olympics,” said Hurd, who is aiming to make the U.S. World Team again next year.

“I try not to think too far ahead and focus on each day and how I can become better.”

The home-schooler’s story is an usual one, considering Hurd’s adoption from China when 11 months old, the glasses she wears for nearsightedness while competing and the small nature of where she’s from.

“In Delaware, gymnastics doesn’t get a large amount of attention,” Mr. Glazounov said. “There aren’t a lot of clubs in the state so there aren’t as many competitors as there would be in other places.”

Her career began at age 2 or 3 when taking a gymnastics class with her mother, but Hurd gave other sports a try. She tried different types of dancing and ice skating, but there was no passion for either. She said T-ball and soccer “kind of bored me. I was doing cartwheels when I wasn’t supposed to.”

A return to China some day is planned because “I want to see where I came from.” At the same time, representing the United States in competition “would be a tremendous honor because it’s the only place I’ve ever really lived.”

As far as the spectacles go, she tried contacts but they irritated her eyes. Hurd tried to go without glasses one season “and didn’t do well. I couldn’t see the vault table, which was a big problem.”

When asked how the glasses don’t fall off during her most acrobatic moves, Hurd relies on an elastic strap to keep them on tight.

“I don’t even notice them,” she said.

Training at First State Gymnastics runs from 9 a.m. to noon and 3:30 to 7 p.m. each weekday, along with Saturday practice from 9 a.m. to noon. Her online school hours take place at the gym from noon to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Sunday is a time for rest. Hurd enjoys the typical teenage pleasures of going to the mall or watching movie with friends, or hanging out at someone’s house.

Her television time centers on Netflix and “whatever’s out. If it sounds good I’ll watch.” Besides reading “a variety of books” she said there’s time reserved to listen to the sound track of “Hamilton” the Broadway musical, a tribute to the birth date she shares with the July 18 National Hamilton Day celebrating the value of a $10 bill.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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