Morgan Lake reached the Olympic high jump final at Rio 2016 after switching from her former discipline of heptathlon, and proceeded to win a silver medal two years later at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Here the 23-year-old, who attained the qualifying mark for the Tokyo Games earlier this month, writes for the PA news agency to highlight the importance of International Women’s Day in helping shatter some of the stigmas still surrounding girls in sport.
“International Women’s Day plays a valuable role in changing the perception of girls in sport, and this year, following the pandemic, its message of female empowerment is more important than ever.
“It is vitally important that girls are inspired back into sport after the break in activity. I remember how tough it was for me as a teenager, missing out on social opportunities with my friends because I was always training.
“I was fortunate in that I could look at athletes like Jess Ennis-Hill and Christine Ohuruogu as role models, and that really kept my focused, and made me realise my long-term goals over-shadowed those short-term setbacks.
“With more women’s sport on the television, there are more opportunities for girls to discover their own role models, and this is absolutely crucial in inspiring the next generation of female athletes to keep going.
“Things are changing for the better. When I was younger, I would hide the fact that I was lifting weights in the gym as part of my training programme, because I was too embarrassed.
“We had a strength and conditioning gym at my school which I don’t think I ever used. I was just so embarrassed to go in there because it was full of all the rugby boys, and I didn’t want them to think I was getting all big and muscley.
“Girls were supposed to get as slim as they could and not show any muscle. Now, I think there’s more of a push to steer girls to the fitness side of things, and I think it is the kind of stigma that has been reduced.
“It has been tough trying to deal with the Olympics being postponed. The hardest part was in March and April last year, when we worried about having to train and prepare for the Games in our back gardens.
“Hitting the qualifying mark is definitely a weight off my mind. It is important to shrug off the speculation. You’ve got to make sure it doesn’t affect your training or motivation levels, and continue as normally as possible until you know for sure.
“I was very happy to reach the high jump final in Rio but I can look back now and see things that I could definitely improve on. This year has really been about rediscovering my love for the sport, looking at the reasons why I do it and just enjoying myself, and hopefully that enjoyment will be reflected in my results.
“I’ve grown so much as an athlete since Rio. Before, I think I used to put too much pressure on myself. From being a good junior, I thought the transition to seniors would be pretty seamless, and I think that was naive of me.
“I changed my mindset from junior to senior and it just wasn’t so fun and enjoyable, and that’s what I’m trying to get back now. If there’s one thing the pandemic has reminded us, it’s that we have to be grateful for our opportunities, and enjoy them.
“Obviously when I was younger everyone compared me to Jess and Kat (Katarina Johnson-Thompson). I’ve barely done an interview in which I haven’t been asked when I might go back to heptathlon, and I think all that has contributed to me putting too much pressure on myself.
“I hope I will also be seen as a good role model for future Olympians. Social media has helped make athletes much more accessible, and it’s important that we use it in the right way to ensure that we continue to make those changes.”
:: For more information on Morgan Lake, check out her profile at redbull.com