Morgan Lake: The high jumper and psychology student living the London legacy at World Championships

Exclusive interview: The 22-year-old student arrives in Doha for the World Athletics Championships this week as one of Britain's outstanding young athletes 

Lawrence Ostlere
Wednesday 25 September 2019 10:03
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Morgan Lake: ‘Studying is good to get my mind off training’
Morgan Lake: ‘Studying is good to get my mind off training’

Morgan Lake remembers exactly where she was when Jessica Ennis-Hill clinched Olympic gold. Lake was 15, busy competing at a national meet and trying to snatch a glance of her idol in any spare moment. "I was doing the heptathlon too,” she remembers, “so between my events I was trying to watch her in a club house where there was a little screen on.”

It was Super Saturday at London 2012, the very height of British athletics in the modern era, and it became a night which had a lasting effect on Lake's generation who are now attempting to write their own history over the coming days at the World Athletics Championships – even if Lake herself was too busy to see it.

"I still haven’t watched her whole heptathlon back,” she admits. “I was obviously aware of Jess before 2012 but seeing how she managed that pressure, especially the pressure that came after the Olympics, it made a big impact. She was a huge influence in my career as a heptathlete, and just to be on teams with her at the Beijing World Championships, after she came back from having a child, that was absolutely amazing."

Growing up in Berkshire, athletics was a everpresent part of Lake's life. Her father Eldon was a national standard triple jumper and he took her to the track aged five, coaching her until she left home at 18 for the Rio Olympics and then Loughborough University. “He’s still involved, still has a keen interest in how I’m doing and how my training’s going, so that helps. He was a big role model.”

Now 22, she has quietly developed into one of Britain's outstanding talents. Two years after the London Games, she won World Junior gold medals in both the heptathlon and high jump, outstripping even Ennis-Hill's feats as a teenager, before reaching the Olympic high jump final in Rio where she finished 10th. Last year she announced herself on the senior stage, winning silver medals at the Athletics World Cup in London and the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

Multi-eventing is about as physically demanding as it gets for a developing athlete, a draining mix of strength training, stamina and endurance, sprints and speed, and an array of technical skills to master. It's why Lake and her coach have plotted a route into athletics focusing on the high jump, by far her strongest suit, as she builds ultimately to the Olympics Games in Tokyo next summer. Emulating Ennis-Hill might be the ultimate dream but for now, the heptathlon can wait.

Besides, there is barely time for one event, let alone seven. Lake is studying for a psychology degree around her training where a typical day is a little different to the average student: down at the track at 9am, a hard afternoon in the gym, then catching up on uni work before dinner. "It’s definitely a bit of a balancing act,” she says. “Luckily at Loughborough I get the opportunity to split my modules in half so I haven’t got as much work load. And it’s quite good to get my mind off training as well, not constantly thinking about it, so I’ve got something else to focus on."

Lake’s points total was better than anything Ennis-Hill achieved in her youth (Getty)

While it takes up plenty of her time, Lake says her degree isn't entirely distinct from her career. "Goal-setting, mindfulness, visualisation – there’s a lot of small things which are transferable to sport. I definitely want to do something with psychology. I haven’t completely decided what it would be, but it’s definitely a future interest after athletics."

Hopefully life after athletics is a long way away yet, with a stellar career waiting in between. Making the transition from sensational junior – when records would regularly tumble beneath her – to the senior stage has not always been easy. Injuries have severely hampered Lake's progress and she is having to learn quickly from the competitions she’s fit to compete in, like the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow earlier this year.

“Glasgow’s a weird one,” she says. “I came in quite good form, I got the British record earlier in the season. I’ve been jumping quite regularly in the mid 1.90s, so I felt quite confident going into the competition. I had a bit of a rocky qualification to the final, and then when I got to the final I put too much pressure on myself and tensed up, and I wasn’t jumping the way I have been all season.

“I was thinking too much about the end goal rather than the process, so I was just thinking about getting a medal. High jump is one of those competitions where you have to take it stage by stage, you have to focus on each height as it comes, you can’t just think about the end result. I’ve definitely learned from that, and I guess it’s better to learn these things now, before the World Championships, so I’m trying to take the positives out of it and learn from what went wrong.”

It is a policy of self-reflection that has stood Lake in good stead so far in her career. The next challenge is to push for a medal in a highly competitive high jump field in Doha next week. Emulating Ennis-Hill might be an unfair expectation on young shoulders, but if there is a London legacy it is that future British stars like Lake and her close friend Dina Asher-Smith are setting no limits on what they can achieve.

To find out more about Morgan Lake, go to her athlete profile on redbull.com

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