The dream––the goal she had been aiming for since committing to her sport 11 years ago––was far-fetched and unattainable.
Throughout much of her early performances, that’s what Morgan Hurd, then an up-and-coming junior gymnast, had forced herself to believe. Qualifying for the Olympics was all she had ever wanted, but the Middletown, Del., native had started to wonder if it would ever be possible. She had finished eighth All-Around at the 2015 U.S. championships and fifth all-around the following year but couldn’t find the top of the podium. She was low on confidence and had little experience.
By the time she had turned 16, Hurd found it difficult to picture herself on a national team at all.
“It definitely was frustrating,” Hurd, now 17, tells Sports Illustrated. “I always knew that I could do better than I did that day. So I had to constantly remind myself that I was still very young. My coaches always told me that I didn’t want to peak too soon, that I had to pace myself. I knew I was going to have tough days, but that only meant that I would rise up later on.”
Now nearly one year away from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, that’s exactly what Hurd has done. She’s the 2017 World all-around champion and balance beam silver medalist. She’s a three-time national team member, a 2018 world team champion and a five-time World medalist.
And as she prepares for this year’s Pan American Games in Peru, Hurd has come to realize that her chance at making the Olympic team is more than just a dream.
It’s a reality.
“If you had told me I would be in the position to make the 2020 team two years ago, I would have never believed you,” Hurd says. “But now that I’m here, I know what I need to achieve my goals. I know what I’m capable of. It’s time to keep pushing upwards and not stay at the same spot.”
As she continues to work toward making that happen, Hurd will have her journey documented through the Olympic Channel’s new original series All Around. The behind-the-scenes documentary will interweave Hurd’s path to Olympic gold alongside those of Russia’s Angelina Melnikova and China’s Chen Yile, giving viewers unprecedented access to each athlete’s training regimens and competitions throughout the year before culminating in Tokyo.
Hurd caught up with Sports Illustratedon behalf of the new series (which launches on August 6) to discuss being featured on the show, her ambitions ahead of the 2020 Olympics and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alaa Abdeldaiem:When did you first get into gymnastics, and why is it something that you’ve fallen in love with?
Morgan Hurd:I first got into gymnastics when I was about three years old. My mom took me to these mommy-and-me classes, and really she put me in multiple sports from then. I was in gymnastics, several different types of dance, soccer, tee ball and ice skating. By the time I was six, I had to narrow it down and it was between dance and gymnastics, and I chose gymnastics. I’ve always loved it more than anything, that feeling of doing something crazy that not a lot of people are capable of.
AA:How would you describe yourself as an athlete and as a gymnast? What’s something about you that you want others to know?
MH:I’m very driven and determined. When I set my mind to something, that’s all I can think about from then on. When I was younger, I never really watched gymnastics on TV or had any idols. I was just always self-driven and knew that I had a goal that I wanted to work toward.
AA:What was it like to pull off a surprise All-Around victory at the 2017 World Championships? Do you feel like that win changed the level of confidence you have in yourself?
MH: It was insane. It was a surprise to me to even just make the team. I was fine with that being it and was just so honored to even be there. And then when I made it into the All-Around finals, that in itself was amazing to me. I just wanted to go out there and do the absolute best that I could, and if I got a medal, then hey, that’s awesome. But then I won, and that was just so surreal. I still can’t believe it happened. It definitely helped me gain confidence because it showed me that I was capable of hanging with the big dogs. There was a small crowd that knew who I was before then, but that win really put me on the map.
AA: What was it like to be a member of the 2018 World championship team and compete alongside someone like Simone Biles?
MH:I was so honored to be named to that team. It was a team with so much depth and talent, so to be with them was amazing. It sometimes feels like you’re competing for second place with Simone on the team, but at the same time, we all have to do our own job. High difficulty works for her, but gymnastics is so individualized, so that doesn’t always work for everyone else. She definitely pushes us to be better, but she also helps bring out the fun side of gymnastics. I can sometimes be too serious, and she helps us all loosen up.
AA:You had your third surgery on your elbow in December. What has the journey been like, coming back from the procedure?
MH:Since it was the same exact procedure on the same elbow, I knew my body already and knew what the surgery was going to be like, how it would feel and what I was going to be dealing with afterward. I knew how to pace myself and when to push myself and when I should stop. That same week I was asking my coach if I could just hang on the bars to get back into it. It was about building back my strength and endurance.
AA:You competed at the Tokyo World Cup in April and won gold. Did that trip get you even more excited for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
MH: Oh for sure. I got to get a little glimpse at Tokyo and it was just absolutely stunning. I ate fish every single day. It’s my favorite food, so it was just the best. And the people were so kind, the environment was so amazing and I just hope I can earn a trip back.
AA:What are your dreams and ambitions ahead of the Olympic Games? How are you preparing yourself to reach that ultimate goal?
MH:I’m just trying to take it one step at a time. I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself and just setting small goals as I go and keeping on until eventually, that goal comes along.
AA:The Olympic Channel is following your every step as you gear up for the Olympics. Why is a documentary like this special in your eyes, and what do you hope to show and share with viewers following your journey?
MH:It’s so special to me and incredible to think that years later I can go back and look at it all documented and right there. I’m really excited for viewers to see what goes on behind the scenes because they only ever get to see what we put out on the floor, and oftentimes people like to make assumptions about us that are incorrect. Gymnastics isn’t just solely practicing in the gym. There’s so much training outside of that to prepare yourself, like what I eat, how much sleep I get, the type of recovery that I do. You have to prep yourself to have the right mindset for it all.
AA:When it’s all said and done, what do you hope to prove?
MH:I hope to prove to myself that it was all worth it. It’s already been all worth it, but I’d like to see even more that if I put my mind to something, nothing can hold me back.