Morgan Hurd walked through her gym Wednesday wearing two large shining medals that swung heavily against her small frame.
Her braces glistening, the 16-year-old gymnast smiled ear to ear as young girls cheered, waved American flags and greeted her with hugs.
Morgan has just returned from Montreal, where she became the first Delawarean to win a world championship title in gymnastics. The Middletown resident is only the 8th American woman to win gold in the all-around event at worlds — where she also won a silver medal for balance beam.
“I felt incredible, I was so happy, I started crying, actually,” she said.
“The field is so deep, especially this year, and there’s so many great athletes, I was just so honored to even be able to be in the presence of them.”
Morgan was not considered a front-runner going into the championships — this is her first year in the senior ranks. She placed sixth in the all-around event at the national championships in August.
“I tried not to think too much about medaling, because really it comes down to what everyone else does, how the judges score, so I wanted to focus on hitting clean four for four,” she said.
Her coach Slava Glazounov has been coaching her at his gym First State Gymnastic in Newark for the past eight years.
“It was absolutely incredible, it’s already been three days, but still, every time we talk about it we have goosebumps — we both,” he said.
“When it happened, we couldn’t sleep the entire night, we’ve just been reliving the moments of success. The time before that, you know, gymnastics is a tough sport, Morgan went for surgery, we recovered, we were dreaming about it and we did it — she did it — I was just there supporting her.”
Morgan said during finals, she felt her strongest during her floor routine.
“I think my floor was my best event that day, I had so much fun competing my floor routine — versus being so tired, like, ‘Oh my God, is this over yet?’” she said.
“I just love to perform my routine for the crowd. I like that it’s a lot different form my last routines — my last routines have been more serious — and this is, I wouldn’t say playful, but a little lighter, and it’s definitely more dancey than my past routines.”
Glazounov said he’s proud of Morgan’s perseverance in the competition and throughout her career. Leading up to the competition, she spent three weeks away from home, training nonstop.
“Competing in the world championships takes so much emotional stress, it’s very demanding,” Glazounov said. “It’s mentally very challenging and demanding, and putting yourself in front of 10,000 people with bright lights is very nerve-wracking to me and to her, and the fact at 16 years old she was able to put it all together, stay completely focused, and get through the whole two days of competition and end up at the top is a dream come true.”
Not only has Morgan received attention for her quick rise to the top, but also for her bubbly personality, and for wearing glasses during competition.
She wears a strap that hooks to the back of her glasses and wraps around her head so it stays in place. Morgan tried contact lenses, but sometimes chalk would get in them, and she’d waste her practice time trying to clean them out.
“I’ve gotten [attention for my glasses] ever since I started competing, because there’s really only been one other known gymnast, Kami Moore, that competed in glasses,” she said. “It’s just such an uncommon thing, because people think they can’t do it, because they’re afraid they’re going to break or something.”
The girls who train at the gym say Morgan’s infectious personality and talent inspires them daily. During her homecoming party dozens of young gymnasts swarmed around her waiting their turn for an autograph.
“She strives for perfection all the time, so that makes all of us want to move forward and keep going,” said Cameron Machado, 14, who trains with Morgan. “I get nervous for invitationals here, and she’s competing at worlds, so I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can do it.’”
Like many single sport athletes, Morgan is homeschooled in order to meet her demanding 7-hour per day training regimen. She said she hopes her hard work will land her a spot on the Olympic team in 2020. Morgan will get back to training next week, concentrating on improving her landings.
“I think it’s really going to help my confidence,” she said of her win. “I can’t wait to start training and learning new skills and polishing every detail.”