HIGH jumper Poppy Lake is hopeful she has overcome her battle with nerves after shining on the biggest stage of her career so far.
The 18-year-old Southend High School for Girls student set a new personal best of 1.81m while jumping at the UK Indoor Championships in Sheffield.
Lake admits nerves have got the better of her in the past and she was worried how she’d fare up against the very best high jumpers in the country in her first senior championships.
But she needn’t have worried.
“I do suffer really badly with nerves but I was determined not to let them affect me this time,” said Lake. “I had no pressure on me, I was the baby of the competition and I just wanted to go out there and show everyone what I could do.”
Lake wasn’t entirely nerveless though, particularly when she got her first chorus of claps from the packed crowd as she went for her first jump.
“That was the first time I’ve had people clapping me,” said Lake. “I’ve always been too nervous to start a clap before!
“My mum said she was sat in the stands saying ‘Oh, Poppy hates that’ and the opening height was 1.69m, so that in itself was quite big. But low and behold I cleared it!”
The women’s high jump was probably the stand-out competition of the whole weekend, with Olympic star Katarina Johnson-Thompson breaking the British record with a jump of 1.96m, so the spotlight was on Lake and her competitors perhaps more than anyone else.
“It was phenomenal to be involved and part of that atmosphere” she said. “It brought back memories of the Olympics. You really felt like a top, top level athlete and I was so glad I was able to experience it.”
Lake now wants to have plenty more experiences like that, starting with this summer’s World Junior Championships in Oregon.
She was overlooked for a spot in the Great Britain squad for last summer’s World Youth Championships despite having the qualification standard – something that has given her extra determination to prove her doubters wrong.
“Missing out on the World Youths hurt,” she said. “I had the standard too and I think having the standard and not going hurt even more. “They never gave me the chance and I hope I showed at the weekend what I can do given the opportunity.
“This is all I want to do and I’ve just got to keep training hard and keep working hard.”
Lake made an emotional decision to switch coaches at the end of last summer in a bid to take her jumping to the next level.
She went from long-term coach Phil Sergeant to John Herbet and admits it was a painful move, but one she needed to make to progress her career.
“Everything was supported by previous coach Phil and hopefully this will take me from the national stage to the international stage,” she said.
“It has been going really well and everyone has been saying how good my jumping is looking.
“At the end of the day, you have to progress. As sad as it was to leave my old coach – and it was sad – I’m loving my training now and looking forward to the future.”
Lake wasn’t the only young south Essex star competing at the UK Indoor Championships.
Gemma Kersey in the 3,000m
Gemma Kersey, 22, ran her fastest ever 3,000m race indoors to finish sixth in 9m 24.52s while Sophie Riches, 18, ran a season’s best of 4m 35.24s in the 1,500m final.
Sophie Riches in the 1,500m
Training partners Hayley McLean (55.25s) and Nicole McKechnie (56.84s PB) just couldn’t make it out of their 400m heats while Palmer’s College’s sprint hurdler Khai Riley Laborde set a new best of 8.0s in the 60m hurdles.
Hayley McLean dips for the line in the 400m
Nicole McKenchie in the women's 400m
Khai Riley-Laborde in the 60m men's hurdles