SPIKES spent the day with junior heptathlete Morgan Lake, the new golden girl of British track and field. Things got messy.
“I love athletics,” Morgan Lake tells SPIKES, flashing her brilliant smile during the lunch break of a photoshoot in London.
“My dad was an athlete when he was younger [a youth international triple jumper], so it was a kind of natural progression,” she says. “I went to a local club when I was about five.”
Lake goes for world junior heptathlon gold on July 22nd at Hayward Field with 12 years of track and field experience on her side, and according to dad and coach Eldon: maturity.
“I know she is very young, but she’s done athletics since she was five years old,” says Eldon, who leads her four-strong coaching team. “She’s got years ahead of other people who started competing aged 12-13.”
She certainly has the poise. Despite posing for a five-hour photoshoot in a world record number of dynamic poses, she’s showing no signs of fatigue from the weekend before.
At just 16, and in her first heptathlon with full-size hurdles, javelins and shots, Lake won the Multistars heptathlon in Florence with 5896pts – beating a field that included 31-year-old Commonwealth silver medallist Jessica Zelinka.
She then set a new British under-20 record in the high jump (1.93m – good enough for individual HJ gold at the last five world juniors); turned 17, and scored 6081pts at the prestigious Hypo Meeting in Gotzis, Austria.
In doing so, she has smashed the 6000pts barrier four years in advance of Olympic champions Jessica Ennis-Hill and Denise Lewis, and two years quicker than the current world number one Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
As Jess Ennis-Hill and KJT rocked the Olympic Stadium at London 2012, Morgan Lake was at a cold and wet Northwood Stadium, breaking her own records.
“I was competing [at the under-17 national heptathlon champs] on the same day as Jess Ennis won gold, so we were watching it on the live stream on my dad’s phone, between events,” says Morgan.
“Jess’ second day was on my first day. I remember watching her long jump whilst I was getting ready.”
“Morgan nearly missed the call-up for the long jump,” says Eldon, laughing. “All sorts of things happened because we were just concentrating on what happened in the Olympics, it was brilliant.
“People thought we were weird. She wasn’t warming up properly, we were just watching what they were doing in London. It was a massive motivation.”
Their approach paid off, and Morgan won gold too.
“Jess broke the senior record, Kat [Johnson-Thompson] broke the junior record, and I broke the under-17 record, all at the same time,” says Morgan. “That was quite cool.”
At her first international competition, the Donetsk 2013 World Youth Championships, an awesome high jump and shot put gave her a first day lead of 192pts.
To put that in context, it’s like having a 90-metre lead going into the final heptathlon event (the 800m).
“The lead up to Donetsk was really good. I felt really confident going into the competition, and being with the team travelling over was really fun,” she says. “Day one was really good.”
Yet day two was as bad as the first day was good, and the final scorecard read Morgan Lake – DNF.
“At the end of the first day, I got too caught up with the high jump and stuff, so I was on twitter” – checking herograms from delighted British athleticos.
“I didn’t really get a good night’s sleep, and that let me down on day two. After each event, I was thinking about the last one rather than the next one.”
“Now, I’ll not dwell on what I’ve done until the end, otherwise I won’t be focused on my competition.”
This month, she's going to the place where US decathlete Ashton Eaton – the best all-round athlete in history – lives, trains, and set his world record: TrackTown for the Oregon 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships.
“I’ll enjoy it – the environment of people my own age, and being at the home of track.
“I’ve made friends with girls from Sweden and Australia [like Alliyah Johnson]. When you do the individual events, everyone’s kind of like: head on, game face, not really that chatty.
“But in the heptathlon, once you get past the hurdles, you’re with each other for two days, so you might as well be nice!
“Everyone helps each other with the run-ups and stuff, so it’s quite nice.”
She’ll also get to compete in front of a knowledgable and passionate Eugene crowd. So expect something special in her favourite heptathlon discipline: the high jump.
“It’s definitely my strongest event,” she says. “It’s like flying.”
Her deficiencies are being worked on too. She trains four days a week, for two or three hours a day.
Her previous dislike of the 200m met the full force of a winter’s over-distance work. Punishing reps of 300m have helped transform it into an event she can score valuable points in, and she’s taken almost a second off her PB this year.
Morgan Lake has been so good this year, she earned selection for the England team at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But after a late change of heart, opted for the world juniors in Oregon.
“I can’t wait to compete to the best of my ability against some of the best junior athletes in the world.”
Neither can we.
Photography by Adrian Myers.