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Hurd, Mikulak win all-around championships at American Cup

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Morgan Hurd is turning the page from a frustrating 2019 season and going for her first Olympic berth.

Her new approach is paying early dividends.

The 18-year-old from Middletown, Delaware, won the women’s all-around title at the American Cup on Saturday. This marks the second time in three years that Hurd has won the all-around title at the American Cup, the first major international competition leading to the Tokyo Games.

“I guess I just have almost a different mentality,” Hurd said. “I’m learning to be calmer and just really telling myself that I’m really just in a practice, (that) I’m not even doing a meet. That’s what I kept telling myself all day."

Hurd posted a total score of 55.832 to lead the 12 competitors. Kayla DiCello of the U.S. was second with 55.132. Hitomi Hatakeda of Japan was third with 53.799.

Two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak of Newport Beach, California, made it a U.S. sweep later Saturday by winning the men’s all-around competition with a score of 85.332. Oleg Verniaiev, who finished second in the all-around at the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympics and third at last year’s world championships, was second with 83.064.

James Hall of Britain was third (82.999) and Shane Wiskus of Spring Park, Minnesota, was fourth (82.797).

This year's competition didn't include Russia, which announced last week that it wasn’t making the trip because of the coronavirus.

Hurd, who won the women's 2017 all-around world title, failed to make the six-woman world championship team and became a non-traveling alternate instead.

She tried to put the best light on the situation by figuring that would reduce the pressure on her.

“I felt like I couldn’t get any lower,’’ she said, “so the only way to go was up from there.”

Hurd said she felt “strangely calm” while competing Saturday. She responded by finishing first in the uneven bars (14.100), second in the floor exercises (13.666) and third in the vault (14.333) and balance beam (13.733).

“This was a watershed for her, really,” said Tom Forster, the U.S. national women’s team coordinator. “This was her opportunity to state who she is as 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 get really sad and it kind of crumbles their self-confidence. Others get mad and do something about it. That’s what you hope for, and that’s exactly what she did. She made a statement.”

DiCello also proved a point as the 16-year-old from Boyds, Maryland, begins her move to the senior level. DiCello, who won the all-around title in the junior division at last year’s U.S. championships, was competing in her first senior international event.

“I was nervous, but I was also really excited,” said DiCello, who finished in the top four in each event. “I just tried to keep my mind calm and just focus on what I was doing at the time.”

Hurd and DiCello weren’t the only teenagers to shine.

Jennifer Gadirova, a 15-year-old from Britain, surprised even herself while competing at the senior level for the first time. Gadirova placed first in the floor exercises (13.700) and vault (14.566) and second in the balance beam (13.933).

Gadirova settled for fourth place in the all-around because of a 10th-place finish in the uneven bars, which she acknowledged is typically her weakest event.

“I didn’t have much expectation,’’ Gadirova said. “All I was thinking was just do what I needed to do. Coming in where I came in, it makes me believe in myself more, that I can do stuff now.”

Ellie Black, a two-time Olympian from Canada, finished fifth as she continued her comeback after undergoing ankle surgery last fall.

“It’s really exciting for me to be back in an all-around competition, even if it’s not quite to the exact level I eventually want it to be,” Black said.

In the men’s division, Mikulak took the all-around lead in the fifth of six rotations by scoring a 14.033 in the horizontal bar. He followed that up by placing first in the floor exercises with a 14.333.

Mikulak said he didn't perform up to his expectations but managed to persevere after coming down with the flu last week. Although he’d gotten the flu bug out of his system by Sunday, Mikulak said he wasn’t feeling back to normal until about Thursday.

“I thought my endurance was going to be worse," Mikulak said. “Going through all these events, I never felt winded, which was a nice surprise. But I just didn't feel as polished."

Verniaiev led through the first four rotations but closed his day by placing ninth out of 12 competitors in the horizontal bar and 11th in the floor exercises. He had the best scores of anyone in the pommel horse (14.533) and vault (14.800).

Mikulak, a six-time U.S. all-around champion, now has a second American Cup all-around title to go along with his 2014 crown.