Morgan Lake on studying psychology, idolising Jessica Ennis-Hill and making mistakes before the Worlds

The Independent Sports 1 month ago

Morgan Lake remembers exactly where she was when Jessica Ennis-Hill clinched Olympic gold. Lake was 15, competing at a national meet while 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 those like Lake who are now attempting to write their own history over the coming days at the World Athletics Championships – even if she was too busy to see it.

"I still haven’t watched her whole heptathlon back,” Lake 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."

Lake was five when she first stepped on to an athletics track. Her father Eldon was a national standard triple jumper, and he played the role of coach up until she left home for Loughborough University at 18. “He’s still involved, still has a keen interest in how I’m doing and how my training’s going, so that helps. He’s been a huge influence, he coached me from when I first started athletics when I was five up until the Rio Olympic Games, so that’s a major part of career. He was a big role model.”

Now 22, she has quietly developed into one of Britain's outstanding talents in her own right. 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 at that age, before reaching the Olympic high jump final in Rio where she finished 10th, still a teenager. Last year she announced herself on the senior stage by winning silver medals at the Athletics World Cup in London and the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. 

This photo taken on July 23, 2018 shows rotting wood on a stand in the beach volleyball stadium built for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
A rundown athlete seating area in the beach volleyball stadium
This photo taken on July 20, 2018 shows Nini (L) and Yingying, two of the five mascots, lying among trees behind an abandoned, never-completed mall in Beijing
This photo taken on July 18, 2018 shows trees and weeds growing on a banked corner of the BMX track
This photo taken on July 18, 2018 shows trees and weeds growing on a banked corner of the BMX track
Trees and weeds growing at the finish line of the BMX track
The whitewater kayaking stadium is now no longer in use
The whitewater kayaking stadium
A faded Olympic rings logo beside the whitewater kayaking stadium

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. For now, the heptathlon can wait. 

Besides, there is little time for much else. 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."

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 tumbled 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. Heptathlon remains the ultimate goal but for now the target is to push for a medal in a highly competitive high jump field. Emulating Ennis-Hill might be an unfair expectation on young shoulders, but if there is a London legacy it is surely that future British stars like Lake and her close friend Dina Asher-Smith are setting no limits on what they can achieve.

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