BOSTON -- It was evident that the Morgan Hurd competing at the 2018 U.S. Gymnastics Championships Saturday was different from the one who competed at the 2017 national championships.
No, it wasn’t just that her trademark braces were missing. (They came off in April.)
There was an air of confidence about this Hurd; one might even say a swagger.
She has, after all, won the all-around title at the 2017 world championships, as well as the 2018 American Cup.
“I definitely carry myself with a different confidence,” Hurd said. “I have different standards for myself than I did last year.”
Hurd met those standards on the first night of the women’s competition at nationals – part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity – scoring 57.000 and sitting in second halfway through the event.
Simone Biles, the 14-time world and five-time Olympic medalist, is in first with a 60.100; scoring 56.050, Riley McCusker is third.
With Biles and Hurd in the field, it marked the first time two world all-around champions were competing at the U.S. championships in six years, since the days of long-retired Jordyn Wieber and Bridget Sloan.
Making her return to nationals after not competing in the 23 months from the Olympic Games Rio 2016 to the 2018 GK U.S. Classic, Biles proved she is still head and shoulders above her compatriots.
But Hurd doesn’t mind being second to Biles. In fact, it actually feels like winning.
“It kind of does because she’s the greatest of all time, such a legend, and she’s very hard to catch,” Hurd reflected. “But I’m so happy with my performance and how solid I was today.”
Hard to catch, yes. But not impossible, according to Hurd. What would it take to match Biles’ score?
“Probably increase of difficulty and sticking every single pass,” Hurd said.
Hurd already has room to increase her difficulty. She removed her front tuck on balance beam Saturday as it was inconsistent in training this week and she “would rather stay on the beam than fall off,” and she took out her double twisting double layout (Moors) on floor. She also said she has room to improve on vault Sunday, which she called “a little pikey” on Day 1.
No matter what happens on Day 2, Hurd has already achieved a first: not falling on Day 1. It is something she says has happened at every U.S. championships in which she has competed, which dates back to 2014.
“It helps because I’ve had a lot more experience now,” she said.
As a junior she finished 29th in 2014, followed by eighth in 2015 and fifth in 2016. Hurd was sixth last year, a solid start for her senior debut but not yet a sign of world champion material.
She was somewhat unexpectedly selected for the world team and used the biggest moment of her career to show what she can do. Hurd qualified for the final in sixth place and two days later, with reigning U.S. champion Ragan Smith out with injury, she won gold over Canadian Ellie Black by 0.100. Hurd later wrapped her first worlds with balance beam silver.
“I think it’s just crazy because I didn’t even expect myself to make the team, let alone place, let alone win, so I just think that was the craziest thing ever,” Hurd said of her result at worlds.
While Hurd said it slips her mind that she is a world champion, it has changed her life in two ways: She is recognized more frequently, which she called “the coolest thing ever,” and, now that she knows what she is capable of, she has higher expectations of herself.
“It’s just mostly that I feel more responsibility to hit and be clean and to have a certain look,” Hurd explained. “I definitely focus on my presence a lot more, just because I feel like there’s a lot more eyes on me this year perhaps, so I just really want to have a good presence and put on a great show.”