Over the weekend, a world champion in women’s gymnastics was crowned and her name wasn’t Simone Biles. Biles fans, don’t fret. The Olympic champion wasn’t defeated in all-around competition—that hasn’t happened since 2013. She is merely on a hiatus from training and gymnastics at the moment and was absent from the recent world championships in Montreal.
And her successor is a worthy one: Meet 16-year-old Morgan Hurd, the glasses-wearing, Harry Potter-loving world champion.
Hurd, who was adopted as a toddler from China, lives with her mother in Delaware and trains at First State Gymnastics. It’s doubtful you’ve heard of her even if you’re the kind of person who diligently follows gymnastics during the Olympic year. Hurd was a just a junior gymnast in 2016, which means she wasn’t age eligible to try for last year’s Olympic team.
Hurd caught the notice of most ardent gym fans in 2014 when she competed at the Nastia Liukin Cup, a Level 10 meet that is hosted the night before the American Cup, an international elite competition. Hurd, who was then 12-years-old, didn’t win the Nastia Cup, but she sure charmed everyone in the audience.
Even Martha Karolyi, the former national team coordinator, took note of her during that competition. “It jumped in my eye, a little girl with glasses,” she said during a mid-meet TV interview.
The glasses. These are perhaps Hurd’s most salient feature before you see her actually do gymnastics or see the confidence and ease she displays while talking to the media. She’s been asked about her reliance on glasses a lot—it’s a rare sight amongst elite gymnasts—and she always says the same thing: She tried contact lenses but they dried out her eyeballs and particles would get caught in her lenses—gyms are filled with chalk—and she’d have to lose practice time to deal with the matter. Instead, she relies on a neoprene strap that runs around her head to secure the glasses for workouts and competitions.
The first time I had the pleasure of speaking to Hurd was at the 2015 national championships. I was there working on a profile about Biles and the junior gymnast called me over to speak to her in the mixed zone because she saw that my credential read “BuzzFeed.” Hurd wanted to talk about the Harry Potter quizzes on the site. I spoke Hurd for a few minutes that afternoon and wished that I could somehow work her into my larger piece about Biles. (Alas, I could not.)
Hurd’s Potter fandom has not all faded since I spoke to her in 2015. Earlier this year, she asked fans to photoshop a Gryffindor scarf onto her maroon leotard from the US Classic and they obliged. When I spoke to her during the mixed zone after world championships podium, I asked her what character she’d like to portray in a floor exercise and she immediately answered, “A wizard.”
And after she won the world all-around title on Friday night by just one tenth of a point, gymnastics blogger Uncle Tim tweeted at Rowling, asking her to congratulate the newest star of women’s gymnastics.
Rowling tweeted at Hurd the next day.
And then again, the day after.
Fortunately, teammate Jade Carey was around to capture Hurd’s reaction to the first tweet on video.
Perhaps my favorite Hurd anecdote comes from her coach, Slava Glazounov who has described Hurd as a “little adult.” In a post-meet interview, he spoke about traveling to the developmental camps in Texas with a 10-year-old Hurd. “She would get herself a cappuccino without caffeine and she would sit with the leg up and drink the coffee and read the book. It was a 10-year-old kid,” he recalled.
Glazounov said that Hurd is still like that: focused, organized, and independent. “She has her opinions of her leos and her uniforms and I try not to interfere. Whatever makes her feel good.”