North Vancouver's Scott Morgan is about to soar into elite company.
On Monday, Sept. 30 he'll hit the floor at the Antwerp Sports Palace for qualification rounds at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. That's an excellent achievement considering the 24-yearold basically quit the sport for most of his high school years. That kind of hiatus is pretty much unheard of in the world of elite gymnastics but Morgan has come all the way back now and if he keeps sticking his landings, he may just find himself perched on a World Championship podium or, someday soon, an Olympic one.
He may have dropped the sport once upon a time but Morgan still has a long history on the mat. He first went to North Van's Flicka Gymnastics Club at the age of four because his parents didn't really know what else to do with him.
"I was just a ball of energy and my parents just brought me to the gym and threw me into this padded (room)," says Morgan. "I was like a little jumping bean." The coaches soon noticed the little bean's jumping talent and invited him into the competitive program. His first competition came when he was five years old, the youngest gymnast on the floor.
"I didn't really know what was going on," he says. "My coach just kind of pushed me on the floor and said, 'OK, go!' I didn't even present to the judges, I didn't even know there were judges. I did my stuff, looked back at my coach and just ran off."
He was good though. Good enough to catch the eye of the newly formed Vancouver Grizzlies NBA franchise. The team was looking for a mini mascot to work with Grizz, the lead mascot, and they chose sixyear-old Morgan after seeing him tumble at a Flicka practice.
"They basically wanted the smallest little kid that was able to do flips. They picked me because I was, like, two feet tall," he says with a laugh, adding that now that he's an adult he's still just five-foot-two. His first NBA halftime show was a success - eventually.
"I ran out to do a bunch of back handsprings across the basketball court and forgot what I was doing," he says. "I stopped, looked back at my coach in the middle of the court in a jampacked stadium. I ran back, and then ran back out and started flipping."
Morgan did the whole routine alongside Grizz.
"I was in a little cub suit, little ears and stuff," he recalls. The gig only lasted a few games because Morgan's family moved to Toronto early in the season but it left Morgan with some lasting memories.
"We got to practice while (the players) were shooting before the game - there was Bryant Reeves and I was at his knees," he says. "It was fun. I got to play with the cheerleaders, so that was awesome."
The early years were fun but by the time high school rolled around, now back in North Vancouver at Seycove secondary, the years of competing had taken their toll. Morgan was good enough that he could have entered the national-level competitions but he wasn't prepared to make that much of a commitment at the time.
"I still enjoyed it but I was a little burned out of the competitive life," he says. "I left gymnastics for four years during high school and didn't really have intentions of coming back."
Morgan kept up his baseline skills by competing with the Seycove team for a couple of months each year but other than that he let his skills lapse. The push to rejoin the competitive stream came from a friend who wanted a training partner. Morgan reluctantly returned to Flicka in 2007, the summer before his Grade 12 year. Flicka men's head coach Vali Stan welcomed Morgan back but expectations were not high.
"I was substantially behind," says Morgan. "At first my coach kind of said, 'I'll be your coach because you want to be here, but I don't see a future for you.'" It didn't take long, however, for Morgan to get right back into training mode.
"Pretty much within the first week I was like, 'Man, why did I ever leave?' It was just so fun."
By 2009 Morgan had regained his form and then some, earning spots at national competitions with the possibility of going even further. His desire to compete on the sport's biggest stages was cemented in 2010 when Vancouver became the centre of the athletic world.
"I think the turning point of when I wanted to make the Olympics. .. and it's probably so cliché, but (it was) when the Olympics were here and in Whistler," he says. "I remember just going through the shopping centres and every once in a while you might just see an athlete. In my particular case there were two athletes from Russia and they were wearing their full national team gear just walking around. And in a country that doesn't really treat their athletes like celebrities, people were still looking at them and being like, 'Oh, check them out.' It was really cool."
One year later Morgan put on a uniform sporting the Maple Leaf for the first time when he made his national team debut at an invitational meet in Puerto Rico. Facing competitors from the United States and Central and South America, Morgan won medals on the floor and in vault. Now he, like the Russian Olympians, was the guy in the cool uniform that everyone admired.
"I got to be that person and it sends goosebumps all over me just thinking about it," he says. "That feeling is indescribable. It feels so good."
Next week at the World Championships Morgan will take one more step on his journey to the top of the sport. His high school hiatus ended his chances of competing as an all-rounder but now he specializes in three events: floor, rings and vault.
His best, and favourite, is floor, he says. His routine features a pass that not many other gymnasts are doing, a round-off back handspring, double layout into a 1½ front flip onto his stomach. It's a pass made popular by Romanian legend Marian Dragulescu and its inclusion in Morgan's routine is a nod to the Romanian roots of coach Stan. Morgan says his routines have a degree of difficulty that is close to those of the best in the world.
"To the public's eye I won't look too much different from them," he says. "I'm maybe a couple of tenths lower than your top 3 in the world."
If he nails his routines, however, Morgan thinks he has a shot at top 10 at worlds and the individual finals. He nearly qualified for the 2012 Olympics but due to previous performances Canada was only allotted spots for one athlete and one alternate. Morgan was the second alternate. That experience has motivated him to work even harder on his way to the 2016 Olympic Games.
"(Rio) is the big goal," he says. "It's still going to be difficult, no matter what the (qualification) situation is. Hopefully this time around we do qualify a team so that we can send a good group of guys."
One thing seems certain at this point though. Now that Morgan can see the top, there's no way he's going to take a step back now.
© Copyright 2013