Morgan Lake (Zoe McConnell)Morgan Lake (Zoe McConnell) © Copyright

Morgan Lake: Fitter, Faster, Stronger

Morgan Lake isn’t the only 18-year-old gap year student who knuckled down through the winter. She’s hoping her hard work will translate into a once-in-a-lifetime trip this summer. She’s dreaming of going somewhere exciting. Some place hot. But while her peers are temping in offices or serving pints in a bar to save some money, cash is no good to Lake. Her currency is heptathlon points, and she needs 6,200 of them by July.

Should all go to plan, she’ll be lining up alongside Jess Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson in front of 60,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium in Rio on 12 August. This all sounds great. But we’re sat in a changing room in a battered old East London warehouse eight months prior to all that. And there’s a lot to do before it can happen.

Her working week is designed by her dad, Eldon, who is her coach, to help her hit the qualifying standard for the Rio Olympics. It is just as time-consuming as a full-time job, and can be brutal in its demands. This shoot takes place on her solitary day off in the week.For the rest of the week, her job is to make sure she’s one of the fastest, strongest and most explosive women in the world. Not an easy thing to do, but it’s much more manageable now that she’s out of full-time education.

“It’s definitely so much easier,” Lake agrees, while the make-up artist draws a thick black line from her eye in the direction of her temple. “The biggest change I’ve found is that I can have a lot more physio and treatment. If I was injured last year, I’d keep training through it, so I was breaking down quite a lot. Having constant support is probably the biggest change, and being able to concentrate fully… I think I’ve found love for the event a bit more.”

In tandem with the physical demands required in her sport, she must also master the technique of seven events. Each one requires a unique mix of rhythm, balance and coordination.

“Last year, long jump was quite hard for me,” she says, “so this year, we’re just slowing it down. We have more time to film the event and analyse it later. “I think about the event quite a lot. I visualise it and think about myself competing in the stadum, so it’s nice having that thinking time.”

Making the Team

Two summers ago, aged just 16, Lake scored 6,148pts and beat the 19-year-old reigning champ to win the world junior heptathlon title. Her score may mean nothing to you but it’s mind-blowing.

Jessica Ennis-Hill is the Olympic and world heptathlon champion; a bona fide national hero and the fifth-highest scorer in the history of the sport. She was 20 by the time she put together a heptathlon like Lake’s. Brianne Theisen-Eaton, 2015’s number one ranked heptathlete, was 23.

Last year, Lake struggled with injuries and A-levels, and didn’t manage to put a heptathlon together. But in the high jump (her favourite event, which she describes as “like flying”), she won the European u20 championships to match her world age group titles in high jump and heptathlon.

Her leap of 1.94m also put her joint 13th in the world for 2015 – and better than scores of senior athletes who focus on the event. It also qualified her to compete in the senior world champs in Beijing; the only British athlete aged 18 or under to do so.

Lake also saw Ennis-Hill perform like a true champion in the heptathlon, as she held off the pressure from rising star Johnson-Thompson. “I learned a lot from Jess’ attitude in Beijing. She just ‘went through’ the events; she wasn’t really affected by what everyone else was doing. Kat’s long jump [which gave Ennis-Hill an advantage], and the high jump results [which had gone in Johnson-Thompson’s favour] could have affected her.”

With a lot of work to do before the summer Olympics, has Lake started to visualise herself in Rio yet? “I’ve… tried to, yeah. I’ve been reading stories about it and seeing all their [@Rio2016’s] posts. I train at Bisham Abbey [England hockey train also there], and yesterday they’d put up a Rio Ready poster, which kind of brought it all to life a bit.

“My first heptathlon [of 2016] will be the end of April or early May. I want to try and start early and do as many as I can really; just to try and get the qualifying [standard]. At the moment, training is going well: better than this time last year, with little gains in each event.”

Secrets and Thighs

Lake is leaving nothing to chance in her bid to board that plane in Team GB apparel. The day after our shoot, she is going to get the relative sizes of her hamstrings and quadriceps measured by a team of scientists at an exclusive and highly-specialised performance centre called GSK Labs.

“For springing, you need your hamstrings, and for things like jumping, it’s your quads. I’ve got to get the right balance between both, because heptathlon asks a lot of both. They will give you ways to improve one, or how to keep them balanced.”

Lake can also practise competing in an acclimatisation chamber that mimics the conditions she’s about to face. Prior to Beijing 2015, they turned it up to 35oC heat and 85 per cent humidity (although the Chinese government eventually messed around with clouds and banned air travel over Beijing, which reduced humidity). This time, Lake can prepare for a more predictable Brazilian winter.