Morgan Hurd finds her voice during gymnastics' pause

The 2017 world all-around champion has been vocal about using her platform to highlight issues that matter to her including Black Lives Matter, voting and more.
By Scott Bregman

2020 was the year that Morgan Hurd had dreamed of for her whole life as she trained tirelessly for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, upending the world and her plans along with it.

Instead of despair, the 2017 world all-around champion - who stars in the Olympic Channel original series All Around - has pushed forward in her training.

Outside the gym, as the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election neared, Hurd has increasingly used her platform on social media to support Black Lives Matter, voting and other issues close to her heart.

In an interview with Olympic Channel, she admitted that she had experience racism in her life, especially in the past few months as the pandemic gripped the U.S.

“I definitely have experienced racism ever since I was a little kid,” said Hurd, who was born in China before being adopted.

Below is a transcript of Hurd’s interview with Olympic Channel, covering lockdown training, her return to the gym and her activism. It has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Olympic Channel: When ‘All Around’ left off, we had just learned the Olympics would be postponed, you were not going into the gym. What was that period of time like? How was your mental state?

Morgan Hurd: It was an incredibly boring time because, as you know, most gymnasts don't actually like to do regular working out because it's so boring. It's like the same thing over and over. There's only so much different conditioning you can do. So I tried to keep almost like a schedule for myself, kind of the same hours I would be at the gym and then trying to do at least something productive in between that time.

I would do like more conditioning than gymnastics just because the only thing I could actually do was beam so I wasn't going to go tumble my lawn, I think my ankles would appreciate that at all.

OC: What was that like for you mentally?

MH: It was it was a very interesting time. It kind of felt like it wasn't really real. And then there was a lot of times I was feeling guilty because I had all this time that... I always preached, ‘Oh, my God, I don't have time to do this. I don't have time to do that.’ Now, I had all this time, and yet, I still didn't do it. Surprise, surprise.

OC: What were some of those things?

MH: I wanted to learn Chinese. I barely did it. It didn't go well. I'm trying still, but it's not going well. I wanted to, like, clean out my closet. It I wanted to... There was like some like arts, like crafting things, I wanted to... Like scrap book things I wanted to put together. Did not do that.

OC: I think that’s probably a very relatable feeling. Where did you turn for some emotional support?

MH: I mostly talked to my friend Callie. We actually would go on like runs together in her neighbourhood sometimes, and then, sit in our trunks across to each other and eat lunch. But a lot of the time, I talked to [Australian gymnast] Heath [Thorpe] because even though we were in different time zones, we were both always home anyways, so it didn't really matter.

OC: So, when were you able to get back to training?

MH: I want to say sometime in May, but I can't remember the exact date. It's like the whole time, it's like running together for me.

I’ve never been out of the gym for more than a week, and the last time I took a week off was in 2016 because I was still a junior so I didn't have to worry about trying to make the World's team in the fall or anything… And, then, still be ready for competition season in February.

OC: What was it like at first getting back to training?

MH: It was pretty difficult. I could be the most physically fit, but I am very much like a feeling person, like I need to always be doing my skills and everything. It was it was very strange. I mean, obviously, beam wasn't like as bad as bars because I was doing beam at home. And that's just kind of like, if you can do it on the floor, you can do on the beam. It's just more of a mental thing. But bars is that is like very much feeling things. There was a lot of basics [at first].

OC: How do you start to structure your training with the possibility that you might be out of competition a full year?

MH: So right now, I've already kind of started doing like a lot of endurance type things. I started doing floor routines with some passes into the resi landing and then beam routines, I'll do like parts. On bars, I started doing like small combos, but it's not going very well… So I do a lot of like kip, cast sets like five and five and then like circles in the same, sets of ten circles and everything.

OC: Do you see any advantages to this very rare downtime?

MH: I see an advantage to this time. I feel like I did get physically stronger just because before I wanted to get obviously more physically fit. But it is kind of hard to do in the middle of a meet season because you want to be able to condition a lot, but you can't really max out. You still have training the next day. and you need to be able to routines. If you're so tired [from conditioning], you can't really do routines.

OC: What have you and coach Slava Glazounov been focusing on in training?

MH: He's kind of like the same as me. He almost doesn't really know how to approach training just because I mean, what if competitions don't actually happen? Plus, we don't even have any camps this year.

Slava and I are very similar in the sense that we both need very short term goals. We need something small to work, look forward to versus just one like big thing a year out. So we're both kind of on the same page, that we... Regardless if we don't know what's gonna happen, we need to be routine ready by January.

OC: How do you feel about your win at the American Cup, way back in March?

MH: I'm for sure very grateful that I got to compete this year just because the last time would have been September for the World Selection Camp.

I do feel like it was a bit of like a redemption for me. And obviously, at the time, I felt like it really put me back in the game and that they shouldn't count me out for the Olympic team.

OC: Was it strange when we hit the days that would have been big moments for you, like the Olympic Trials and when the Olympic Games would have been held?

MH: Well, the day that would have been Trials definitely felt really strange. I was like, wow, today, my dreams would have been made or crushed. Now, I gotta wait a whole other year to experience that feeling, whichever one it is. Then, during when I could have been at the Olympics, that was kind of weird. I was like, wow, if I made the team, I'd be in Tokyo right now competing this or that.

OC: Do you feel like – however briefly – experiencing the Olympic year spotlight gave you insights for next season?

MH: I think maybe a little bit, but at the same time, I feel like it was a little premature, just because it was so early in the year. I wouldn't have wanted to be my peak time anyways then. I would want to be able to peak later because who'd be able to maintain that from March and July.

OC: You’ve made very clear on your social media that speaking up about more than just gymnastics is important. Can you tell us about that?

MH: Speaking out about all the social injustice in the world, the Black Lives Matter movement and voting, racism, sexism, homophobia, everything is just very important to me.

It’s something that I feel very deeply about on all counts, and I've been blessed to be given a very large following and a platform. I don't think that I should let it go to waste and stay silent because silence is compliance.

OC: What has the response been like to that?

MH: There's actually been very little criticism from it. I've gotten a few things, some comments. Sometimes I comment back, sometimes I let other people fight them just because I'm not in the mood.

There was one [direct message] that was like, "Sweetie" - first of all this was a grown man calling me "Sweetie"… It made me highly uncomfortable. But that's the minimum of what I've gotten in my DMs - but he was like, "You need to educate yourself," and blah blah. And I'm just like, "No, you're the one that obviously needs to be educated because you are just so close minded about all of this if you really think that nothing is wrong in this world."

OC: You’ve also attended a few protests…

MH: I ended up going to two protests. Both were very close to the gym. There is one in Pike Creek that I went to after practice one day. It wasn't a march. It was just like on the side of the road. Basically, we were just screaming at cars, which I kind of enjoyed, kind of cool, kinda nice. It was great to just be part of that.

I went to another one that was actually right near the gym. We started in this park and then marched through the entirety of Main Street, which is two minutes from the gym. So that was really cool. And it just had such a large gathering and I felt so honored and proud to be able to be a part of that.

It makes me very proud to be from Delaware and to be a part of this community that there are so many people that are willing to stand up for what is right, no matter if there were consequences or not. Thankfully, both of the protests I went to were very peaceful.

I would definitely want to do more protests. It's hard to find them nearby... And in Philly, I'm kind of scared to drive in Philly because I don't know where to park and everything, so I just haven't been to one of those.

OC: You’re obviously a minority yourself. Have you experience racism in your life?

MH: I mean, I definitely have experienced racism ever since I was a little kid. Obviously not to the extent that the black community does, but just like very little microaggression racism. When I was younger, I would get called like ‘Ching Chong’, have like the Chinese middle finger thrown at me, asked if I ate cats and dogs.

Even at the beginning of all this coronavirus stuff, I was in the grocery store one day and this family just kind of gave me dirty looks and pulled their little kid away from me.

I've heard multiple stories, Asians out there, they're not even Chinese, Korean or Thai, from anywhere, and they're experiencing all this racism and people are literally getting beat up. I read a story about this one elderly lady, someone trying to set her on fire. She was Chinese, and I just think it's completely disgusting. Not only is that disgusting that people are trying to blame a whole country for a virus, but the fact that you're trying to blame these Asian Americans, a lot of whom were not even born in that country, who have been here [in the U.S.] their whole lives for this virus.