The 2017 world all-around champion Morgan Hurd is back and ready to take on some big competition at this year’s American Cup, held in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, later today.
Going from not a single medal at nationals to winning all-around gold and beam silver at worlds in Montreal last year was a real-life Cinderella story for Hurd, who at 16 came into the competition as the underdog and walked away a queen because gymnastics doesn’t care about the past. She showed up, she hit, and she was the best when it mattered, adding her name to the history books as the eighth American woman to take home the all-around title.
When she got home, it was right back to the gym, and that dedication showed in podium training this week, as Hurd is coming to the table with upgrades on every event but vault as she hopes to add “American Cup champion” to her resume.
Her DTY looks more powerful than it has in the past, and on bars, she added a Komova II to stalder full to Tkachev before her Ricna to Pak, which both look cleaner, and she’s now doing an inbar full into her full-in instead of a stalder full, which will bring her to a 6.1 D score on this event. It’s rare to see someone make so many changes within a routine, but as I said last year, what we saw from her difficulty-wise in her first year as a senior was barely scratching the surface of what she can do.
On beam, Hurd’s biggest addition is the piked full-in dismount, an upgrade from the tuck though it’s still worth the same — a G, which is the highest dismount value on the event — and on floor, she replaced the piked full-in with a double layout, bringing her to a 5.7 D score, which would’ve been one of the highest in the world last year.
With all of her skills both old and new, Hurd looked confident, composed, and ready to compete at a level that is rare to see at this point in the year. Hurd first caught the gymternet’s attention with her simple but super clean routines at the Nastia Liukin Cup, held in conjunction with the American Cup, four years ago. Watching her go from the 13-year-old who hadn’t yet qualified elite to returning to the same competition series four years later headlining the main event as the world champion with a combination of difficulty higher than most gymnasts on the planet has been a dream and I’m hoping we see her at her absolute best so far at this meet.
Also competing from the U.S. team here is Maile O’Keefe in her senior debut. O’Keefe, who turned 16 last week, may sound like the underdog here considering her biggest competition is the reigning world champion, but O’Keefe is a legend in her own right. As the back-to-back U.S. junior national champion, O’Keefe made her international debut in 2017, winning the all-around titles at Gymnix and Junior Japan with her scores exceeding those of some of the world’s top senior competitors — including Hurd’s.
What’s best about O’Keefe is her confidence and level of consistency. Like Hurd, she impressed me at a young age with her ability to talk to the press like a tiny adult, with insight and anecdotes that showed a level of maturity far beyond her years. It explains why both of these ladies are able to remain so composed under pressure, and it’s why I just know intuitively that O’Keefe’s senior debut is going to be a big one.
In training, O’Keefe looked solid on all four events, showing that she doesn’t really have a weakness. She opens bars with an insane toe full to Chow to Pak to Maloney to Ricna, she told us in 2014 that her dream series would be a side aerial into two layout stepouts and now she’s doing one with ease on top of a triple series ending with a layout to two feet, and while her floor isn’t super difficult, it’s something she can do with ease.
Typically the international competition isn’t super tough at the American Cup, but this year the U.S. gymnasts will face 2017 world floor champion and 2016 Olympian Mai Murakami of Japan, who only missed out on challenging Hurd for the all-around title in Montreal due to a fall on beam. A hit day from Murakami could mean the first international upset at this competition in 17 years, but while she has tons of power on vault and floor and will undoubtedly bring in big numbers on both, some weaknesses on bars and beam could be what hold her back.
I’m also excited to see what Brooklyn Moors of Canada will do here. I love that her story is similar to Hurd’s, in that she started out her first year at the senior level a bit of an underdog in her country but experienced a meteoric rise that made her an international-level superstar by the time she got to worlds. With Canada’s best-ever floor finish at the world level, Moors has upgraded even further to become a huge medal contender on that event this year, and she’s also added big upgrades on bars and beam. A month ago, Moors won Elite Canada with a fluke fall on bars, and it’ll be great to see how her growth as an all-arounder will continue against a high caliber of competitors.
Also competing in the women’s field will be two-time Olympian Elisabeth Seitz of Germany, 2016 Olympian Mao Yi of China, two-time worlds team member and 2015 Unviersiade all-around champion Kelly Simm of Great Britain, 2016 junior European bars bronze medalist and 2017 worlds team member Lorette Charpy of France, and Fabiane Valentin of Brazil, a first-year senior making her international debut after picking up several impressive titles last year, including Brazilian junior national champion and South American junior national champion.
I don’t think any of these ladies will be quite strong enough to contend with the top four, though I do think someone like Seitz or Charpy on a good day could upset those in the top group if they have mistakes. Charpy has been looking really strong lately, and it wouldn’t be the first time we’d see someone with simple and clean sets pick up a medal over someone who struggles with big difficulty.
While the women are generally the standouts at this meet (and most gymnastics meets if we’re being honest), we’re in for a treat with the men in contention this year. 2017 world bronze all-around medalist Kenzo Shirai of Japan is in the house, so get ready to have your brain smashed to smithereens while trying to count his twists on floor and vault. His difficulty is a little behind on his other events, but the scores he can pick up thanks to his actually brilliant work on his top events are enough to float him above the rest of the competition, so he’s definitely my favorite for the title here.
He’ll be facing off against the 2017 world bronze medalist on floor and hometown favorite Yul Moldauer, the reigning American Cup champion in the men’s field. Moldauer has been on fire at the NCAA level this year, putting up huge all-around scores that should make him tough competition once again.
While the battle between Moldauer and Shirai will be a great one in terms of scores and skills, it’ll be even better for the level of artistry both men bring to a sport that is decidedly unartistic on the MAG side, for the most part. These two are known for bringing a certain style to their gymnastics that we so very rarely get to see in this discipline, so we should consider ourselves lucky for what will absolutely be a treat.
James Hall of Great Britain missed his opportunity to compete in the all-around at worlds last year due to a clerical error, a shame after he surprised to win all-around bronze at Euros six months prior. Hall looked great at English Championships a couple weeks ago, putting up fabulous routines on p-bars and high bar after looking consistent elsewhere, and I’d consider him a threat for a medal here, especially because he knows how to compete mentally, especially when finishing on his best events.
Also competing for the U.S. is Moldauer’s teammate at the University of Oklahoma, Allan Bower, who kind of controversially didn’t make the worlds team last year after placing second all-around at nationals. Bower finished fourth at the Winter Cup in February, just three tenths shy of the podium after two days of competition, and he’s generally pretty consistent across all four events, with floor and pommels generally his best, though his difficulty isn’t quite high enough to make him a top contender here.
In addition, we’ll see Philipp Herder of Germany, Sun Wei of China, and 2016 Olympians Petro Pakhniuk of Ukraine, Nestor Abad of Spain, and Francisco Barretto Junior of Brazil here. I think all could conceivably perform well enough to end up contending for the podium this weekend, though I wouldn’t see them getting ahead of Shirai, Moldauer, and Hall, unless something goes drastically wrong for any of these three gymnasts.
The competition will be broadcast live today, March 3, beginning at 11:30 am on the east coast. For all streaming and television info, check out the information from USA Gymnastics, and you will also be able to follow live results.
As a side note, I was supposed to be attending live, as I have done pretty much every year for the past decade, but unfortunately an apocalypse in the northeast canceled every flight out of New York City, including mine, and as much as I tried to convince them that the weather isn’t really THAT bad, apparently I don’t get to decide when planes get to fly through dangerous storms.
While it’s a bummer to miss seeing this live, thankfully with everything streamed I’ll still be able to live blog, and I’ll have that going up as soon as the meet starts.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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