MILWAUKEE – Morgan Hurd was looking to put a disappointing season in the rearview mirror and reclaim her relevance. Kayla DiCello hoped to stake her claim at the next level in her senior international debut.
Each accomplished their goal for Team USA on Saturday.
Hurd finished first and DiCello second at the 2020 American Cup at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, the first in a series of four all-around world cup events from which the top three countries can qualify an extra gymnast for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Hurd, who won the 2017 world championship but failed to make the 2019 team, finished first on the uneven bars, second on the floor exercise, and third on the beam and vault for an all-around score of 55.832.
The 16-year-old DiCello, the 2019 U.S. junior champion, finished second on vault, third on floor, and fourth on the uneven bars and beam for an all-around score of 55.132.
Hitomi Hatakeda of Japan was third with 53.799 points, followed by Jennifer Gadirova of Great Britain and two-time Canadian Olympian Ellie Black, the silver medalist at the 2017 world championships.
“I didn’t feel necessarily the need that I had to out there and win,” Hurd said. “But, I did feel that I had to hit, hit clean, to show that I am still worthy of an Olympic spot, hopefully.”
Tom Forster, the women's high-performance team coordinator for USA Gymnastics, said Hurd’s change in demeanor and determination was evident prior to the meet.
The American Cup was extremely important for Hurd, from both a performance and confidence standpoint, Forster said.
“I think this was a watershed event for her, really,” Forster said. “This was her opportunity to state who she is an athlete, not to be ignored. I think she felt ignored for not making the world team last fall. You never know how the athletes are going to handle that.
“Some, they get really sad and it kind of crumbles their self-confidence. Others get mad and do something about it, and that’s what you hope for, and that’s exactly what she did.”
Hurd said her failure to make the six-person 2019 world championship squad actually reduced the pressure she felt.
“I had such a disappointing 2019, I felt like I couldn’t get lower, so the only way to go was up from there, and I guess that kind of gave me a little less pressure,” Hurd said. “Obviously, I still feel pressure, because I am the 2017 world champion. I went to worlds in 2018, so I obviously have a name out there and I have to still uphold my name. But, I just kept in the back of my mind that it’s still early in the season. If I make a mistake, I make a mistake. It’s not the end of the world right now.”
DiCello was pleased with her senior level debut – once she got over a bit of nervousness and what she called a slight mistake on the bars, her first event.
“After I did that touch on bars, I just tried to forget about it, so that it didn’t make me even more nervous for when I completed it,” she said. “I know that I’ve done this bar routine so many times.
“After that bar set, I was a lot let stressed than I was before.”
Forster said he was impressed with DiCello’s debut.
“It was really cool to see that she put it together in her very first senior competition, because you’re never sure,” he said. “Usually, first-timers at the American Cup do well, so I was really kind of hoping on that, and she did. She did a really good job.”
With extra Olympic spots at stake, other countries participating in the women’s meet were Australia, China, Italy, France, Germany and Ukraine. Giorgia Villa of Italy, the 2018 Youth Olympic Games champion, finished seventh, and Zhang Jin of China, a 2018 bronze medalist in the world team competition, finished eighth.
Citing concerns about possible travel-related quarantines because of the coronavirus, two of Russia’s top gymnasts – Nikita Nagornyy on the men’s side and Lilia Akhaimova on the women’s – did not participate.
The performance of Hurd and DiCello bodes well for the United States to claim extra Olympic spots.
“It’s important so that we get as many athletes in the Olympic Games as we can,” Forster said. “I don’t think it makes a difference how our team would perform, but if there’s a chance to get six Americans in the Olympics, we want six Americans in the Olympics.”