Exclusive: Morgan Lake on her Olympic hopes, life in athletics and 'trying to fly'

  • Kobe Tong

For someone who’s made a career from flying through the air, Morgan Lake has her feet planted firmly on the ground.

Alongside studying for a university degree like the majority of people her age, the British champion boasts Olympic and World Championship memories that gives her experience beyond her years. Yet for all the peaks in her already blossoming career, Lake remains down to earth and determined to harvest the medals that her remarkable raw talent deserves.

Lake caught up with GiveMeSport in the very athletic cathedral that has nurtured so many of Britain’s most exciting track and field stars – the sports complex at Loughborough University. However, if you retrace her journey back through the appearances at London, Rio de Janeiro and Beijing, you arrive just outside of Reading and at the cradle of Lake’s athletic career. 

“It was quite cool growing up with a dad that was into athletics,” the high jumper explained. “He didn’t really push me to the sport but he definitely encouraged me and acted as a role model for me to start. I did swimming, tennis, hockey, netball and just tried everything. My parents were driving my brother and I everywhere, to try all these sports out and athletics was always where my heart was.”

First stepping on to an athletics track at the age of 5, Lake has always been ahead of the game and overcame a number of hurdles to follow her dreams. The Olympian recalled how one of her old teachers dismissed her aspirations of becoming an athlete, asking what other career she would like to pursue, despite encouraging the boys trying to make it in football.

Ambitions from a young age

“At school it wasn’t really the ‘cool’ thing to want to be a sports star,” Lake admitted openly. “I remember one of my teachers asking what I wanted to be when I was older, so I said: ‘I really wanted to be an athlete.’ 

“If one of the boys said they wanted to be a footballer, they would have left it at that, whereas she was like: ‘oh ok, and what else would you like to do?’ and I was like: ‘what do you mean, what else? I just want to be an athlete!’ I had quite a lot of role models like Dame Kelly Holmes, Kelly Sotherton and Denise Lewis, so they were the sort of people I grew up with.”

However, any doubts about whether Lake would survive in the sporting world were quickly dispelled, taking to the international stage before sitting her GCSE’s or becoming legal to drive. Despite starting out as a heptathlete – following in the footsteps of Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill amongst others – Lake became the undisputed queen of British high-jumping by 2015.

Lake on being her harshest critic

Lake openly admits that she feels older than 21, having accrued more experience than many of her older peers, but so much time in the sport certainly has its disadvantages. The young athlete is often her harshest critic, putting pressure on her own performances despite having time, talent and tenacity on her side.

Reflecting on her competitive mentality, she explained: “I think I put a lot of pressure on myself, because I’ve been to two World Championships and so many European Championships, so I now feel like I’m moving towards podium level.

“I try to rush everything, so Tokyo is coming up next year, and I’m like: ‘I want a medal there!’ and people are like: ‘you’re only 21, you’ve got to remember that a lot of the people you’re competing against are a lot older than you.’ In my opinion, I’ve done this for so long that I’m technically at that same age.”

Wise beyond her years

Admittedly, the quadrennial nature of athletic’s flagship competition means that the windows for glory are minute in their irregularity. Yet, given the wisdom on Lake’s shoulders, it seems inevitable that she will go on to become a stoic figure in the British team. It’s no coincidence that she’s been described as having an old head on a young body.

Greeting the comment with a laugh, Lake conceded some truth in the description: “I’ve been competing in the seniors ever since I was pretty young, I think my first international was at the age of 14, so I’ve always been around people a lot older and wiser than me. I’ve picked up some of their habits along the way, it’s definitely had an effect!”

In a lifestyle that mixes elite athletics and a university education, maturity is an absolute must and Lake’s peers are often taken aback by her ability to spin so many plates. However, even with a seemingly interminable list of commitments, the Loughborough student believes her life can be misinterpreted through the often-distorting lens of social media.

Balancing university and athletics

“There are people in uni who will say: ‘I can’t believe you’re in lectures! You’re always travelling off here, doing this shoot and that shoot,'” she impersonated with a smile. “But I’m like: ‘it’s because you’re only seeing a snapshot of my day,’ I have a 24-hour day and I might make one post in a week, I’m not doing that 24/7!

“Most of the time I’m so tired from training, I’ve got to do university work and train all day, so I’m certainly tired. I think people do get a different outlook on your life and maybe it’s our fault for not putting out the reality, but our reality isn’t glamorous and the reality doesn’t get ‘likes.’ I’m so glad I didn’t grow up in that era with always being on Instagram.”

Athletics can sometimes be guilty of neglecting its young talents and Lake shouldn’t be anything less than treasured by British fans. To achieve what she has at 21 is simply outstanding and few can claim to have such a judicious mindset, injected with just the right amount of determination, in an environment which applies pressure by the tonne. 

Lake has it within her hands to achieve the Olympic and World success that her early achievements have indicated, as well as the opportunity to topple the British outdoor record. There’s something simplistic and intimidating about the challenge of the high jump – setting a bar that can define careers by the elevation of mere centrimetres.

In the words of Lake herself: “You can just forget about everything and try to fly.”

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