Athletics: Morgan Lake's big jump from Great Gatsby to great expectations


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The Independent Online

The heptathlon is big in the Austrian town of Götzis and, in turn, Götzis is big in the heptathlon.

Away from the Olympics and World Championships, it is the premier global multi-discipline event, the world’s best converging on the sleepy location of 10,000 people to lay down their marker this weekend for the coming season.

Youngest among their ranks is Britain’s Morgan Lake. If Katarina Johnson-Thompson is the next Jessica Ennis-Hill, Lake, who only turned 17 two weeks ago, is the next but one, an athlete long since earmarked for stardom.

While Lake’s rivals have been tinkering with their stride patterns and throwing techniques, Lake has been in the midst of her exams at the prestigious Wellington College, a boarding school in Berkshire whose alumni includes 15 Victoria Cross recipients, the author George Orwell and ex-Formula 1 world champion James Hunt. And while her rivals will put their feet up in the wake of Götzis, Lake will sit another exam on Tuesday.

The latest on the seeming conveyor belt of British heptathlon talent, Lake, who is studying for A-levels in business, England and PE, said: “It’s quite hard juggling the two. Doing the Great Gatsby and Twelfth Night, but then having to fit training around that. I think I get the balance about right. Anyway, I think I thrive on being busy.”

Lake has raised British athletics eyebrows for as long as she can remember but attained greater global acclaim in February by breaking former Olympic and world champion Carolina Kluft’s world youth indoor pentathlon record before winning her first senior heptathlon event, Multistars, in Florence earlier this month beating the likes of Canada’s Jessica Zelinka, a former Commonwealth Games silver medallist.

“As for Götzis,” she said, “I’m just there for the experience. To be able to compete there is an honour with everyone at the top of their game. There’s no pressure - the only pressure is from me and my coaches.”

Lead coach is Eldon Lake, a former UK triple jump whose career was brought to a premature end by injury. He is also Lake’s dad, which she admits creates some interesting moments.

“It’s nice having someone around that’s been through it all and he’s been great,” she said. “Sometimes we have our little fights and Mum acts as the referee but I don’t think we’ve ever come back from training not speaking... yet!”

With her father at her side, Lake is surprisingly mature for one so young. But there have been signs of her inexperience, notably at last year’s World Youth Championship where she took a seemingly unassailable 200-point lead on day one of the competition only to have a howler of a long jump competition and fall well out of contention.

It is just about the only blemish on an otherwise faultless copy book, including two weekends ago breaking the British junior high jump record with an effort of 1.93 metre, all the more impressive as she is not a specialist in the event.

Unlike Ennis-Hill and Johnson-Thompson, who first shone in the running events, it is the jumps and throws where Lake is at her best.

“I guess that’s down to Dad’s background,” she added. “I was never against running but it wasn’t really my event. I’ve really worked on it in the last year and that’s definitely the area where I’ve got the biggest room for improvement.”

Johnson-Thompson, who will be by her side in Götzis, is her more immediate role model but it is Ennis-Hill’s Olympic gold that she most wants to emulate, the long-term plan being to achieve that in Tokyo in 2020, the athlete admitting “I like to think quite far ahead”.

When Ennis-Hill enjoyed that career highlight, Lake herself was competing in Stoke, only able to enjoy snippets of the action inside the Olympic Stadium.

“I saw the first day on TV as my competition didn’t start until the next day,” she recalled. “I got to see her 800m live though. The pressure on her was just huge. She was on a billboard poster in every city in the UK and she didn’t let it faze her.”

In conversation, her potential successor does not give off the impression of being easily fazed, to the extent that she has yet to even set our her season goals.

She plans to compete in the high jump at the European Championships - her jump of 1.93m has ensured the qualification standard - while her other heptathlon this season aside from Götzis will either be at the World Junior Championships or the Commonwealth Games in Oregon. “At the moment, I don’t know which one I’ll do.”

First for the photogenic schoolgirl is Götzis, which her school friends will be watching. “They’re really supportive and I’m sure they’ll find a live stream of it,” she said.

At a school with the motto Virtutis Fortuna Comes (fortune favours the brave), it is a bold move by Lake to take on the world’s best in the infancy of her career. Regardless of the step up, she does not lack for the confidence that she is up to the challenge.

Morgan Lake is represented by Wasserman