Morgan Lake on Tokyo 2020, Black Lives Matter and juggling high jump with university

“It was funny,” she says, “there were so many middle-distance and long-distance runners PB-ing (achieving personal bests) and getting Olympic-qualifying standard this summer. People were like ‘Wow how have they done it, they couldn’t train!’ And I’m there like, ‘well… they could!’. You could literally go for a run whenever you wanted!”

Even when access to facilities was granted, there were stumbling blocks. While all equipment was sanitised, there was a fear that the product used was too strong and would damage the landing bed. Lake and her fellow jumpers suggested alternatives, such as individual sheets to place on top of the beds, but even that fell on deaf ears.

Now, things are better. Lake is part of a four-person “jump bubble” at Loughborough. Usually, the groups are bigger but the mini-group still creates a competitive edge to training while adhering to the strict training protocols.

Medical questionnaires and temperature checks are in play. A minor inconvenience but also peace of mind for athletes in Loughborough who will also find themselves in the midst of rising Covid-19 cases across the country’s student population.

Indeed, Lake is one of many in her generation who have had their youth clipped by the pandemic. Her time at university has perhaps more structured and less raucous than most, but finding out about yourself is as much about regular human interaction as it is about socialising. The positive, she says, is that this is her final year. But she does feel the current situation threatens further division at an institute like Loughborough, where the proximity of public to elite athlete is much closer and, thus, carries risk.

“Everyone’s hearing the news of university cases rising so there’s a bit of worry among athletes as well being at a university campus for training, even if they don’t study here.

“I’m in my final year. It’s a bit of a different final year, but that’s how it is, and lectures are all available online for all courses. But it’s weird because there are a lot of freshers who have just got into halls, and the halls are on campus. You’ve got British Swimming here, British Athletics so there is quite a lot of mixing. But it seems to be OK so far, touch wood.”

The next (new) steps to Tokyo for Lake are intense training ahead of what should hopefully he a programme of indoor competitions. That will include re-qualifying for the Olympics which requires her to clear 1.96m – one centimetre below her personal best. “You know, it’s not guaranteed?!” she jokes when The Independent offers a “you’ll be fine”. Not that she needs the reassurance.

The athlete now back on the path to Tokyo is more rounded. One who has managed to improve during this period when merely existing should be considered a success. It feels, certainly to the layman, that she has a more personal grasp on Psychology. She has, through her academic learnings, honed her sporting routines to include more visualisation and counter-acting general performance anxiety through identifying her subconscious ticks.

She has also been working with a mindset coach and now regards the delay of Olympics as an extra year to get fitter, stronger, faster and springier. The physical work she let slide in the past, such as stretching and yoga, has also been worked on.

Most importantly, she has squared it with herself that after next summer, she will redouble her efforts to throw herself back into heptathlon – the event that brought her into athletics. It was Lake’s first love, inspired by Jessica Ennis-Hill who she watched claim Gold in 2012, albeit intermittently as she was also competing at a national event, aged 15.

An abductor injury prevented her from competing in the seven-sport event (high jump is one of them) in 2016. Then a change of scenery from home in Buckinghamshire to Loughborough delayed it for another year. The 2020 Olympics was then the official line in the sand. More than another challenge, this will be about Lake keeping a promise to herself.

“It was the thing that got me into athletics in the first place. It feels like ‘me’. I always want to be busy, always want to be pushing myself. I know I have more strengths than just high-jumping.”

It’s at this point it is put to Lake that with the injury, delays and a global pandemic, perhaps, the universe is trying to tell her something. Unsurprisingly for a woman who has been through the last few months, that doesn’t fly.

“I want to show what I can do and what I am capable of,” she replies. “I feel like I can do more.” 

For more information on Morgan, visit her athlete profile on redbull.com

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