SWIMMER Keri-Anne Payne has admitted her “massive relief” after becoming the first British athlete in any discipline to guarantee their place at London 2012.
The 23-year-old from Stockport ensured her qualification by defending her 10km open water title at the Fina World Championships in Shanghai yesterday.
Payne said: “I really wish I could swear right now but I am not that kind of person. It feels amazing, I’m just so happy with myself for doing that.
“To be on that Olympic team at a home Olympics is going to be absolutely amazing. I’m really pleased.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders. There is a massive sense of relief. I can concentrate on training now for next year and I don’t have to worry about qualifying because I’ve already done it.”
Payne’s victory, a repeat of her success in Rome two years ago, earned Britain’s first medal of the championships. She herself could add to that tally in the pool, where she will compete in the 1,500m and 4 x 200m relay.
British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Hunt led the tributes to Payne, saying her qualification for Team GB was a case of “one down, around 549 to go”.
Hunt added: “Keri-Anne’s outstanding performance to win gold is a terrific personal accomplishment and the Olympic qualification represents a significant milestone on the road to 2012 for Team GB.”
Payne hit the front straight away at Jinshan City Beach, hotly pursued by Australian Melissa Gorman and 2010 Open Water World Champion Marianna Grimaldi.
She saw off a challenge from Gorman on lap three of four, and had enough in reserve to similarly thwart Italian Grimaldi in the closing stages.
Payne’s success ensures she faces greater expectations of more gold nest summer in London.
She said: “I’m sure there will be added pressure on me going into the Olympics but I’ll just work on that coming into it. I’m definitely going to have a target on my back but we’ll see how it goes.”
Fellow Briton Cassie Patten finished 21st, missing out on the top 10 spot needed to qualify for the Games.
PAYNE’S PROGRESS | KERI-ANNE’S CV
2008: Wins silver medal at Beijing Olympics in the 10km marathon swim,
2009: Wins gold medal in 10km at the World Championships in Rome
2010: Wins bronze in 400m individual medley at Commonwealth Games in Delhi
2011: Confirms London 2012 place by winning 10km at World Championships in Shanghai