Keri-Anne Payne (GBR) earns gold medal in FINA 10km; first British athlete to qualify for London Olympics

Shanghai 2011 - Open Water Swimming

altKeri-Anne Payne of Great Britain, the 2008 Olympic silver medallist convincingly defended her title of world champion in the women's 10km on Jinshan City Beach in Shanghai. Payne edged out Martina Grimaldi of Italy by 1.8 seconds, completing the race in the time of 2:01.58.1. Marianna Lymperta of Greece earned the bronze medal finishing 3.7 seconds behind the British champion. 

Payne was the 10km champion in the 2009 edition held in Rome. She becomes the first British athlete to qualify for the 2012 London Olympic Games. "It's hasn't sunk in yet that I have qualified or that I have won. I'm waiting to hear from my sister who is pregnant with her first child. I'll be in touch with her as soon as I get out of doping control. Then I am looking forward to a swim down and a good nights sleep," said Payne. 

"The media have asked me if I have felt any pressure in the lead up to this race, but I really haven't noticed any. My main focus has been in making the Olympic Team. I will be swimming the 1500m in the pool next week and I may also be on the 4 x 200m free relay as well. I'm looking forward to getting into the pool to see how I feel." When asked about her race Payne admitted "leading the race is my usual tactic and I wanted to be out front from the start. I don't like it when we fight in the pack. When I am leading I have a pretty good idea where everyone is and I know that they must pass me if they want to lead."

Twenty-three year old Payne is coached by Sean Kelly of the Stockport Training Centre, a suburb of Manchester. Kelly coached Payne and 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Cassandra Patten as well as Olympian Steven Parry. Patten finished in a disappointing 21st place in the Jinshan Beach 10km. Due to the FINA qualification system, there will not be a second British female athlete in the 2012 Olympic 10km event.

Kelly said he was "delighted with the outcome of today's race; it proves that what we are doing is not a fluke. Keri-Anne has given up a lot to get where she is today, in fact we both have sacrificed a lot. She has been training hard and it showed today." Kelly revealed their strategy planned more than a year ago: "We decided that our tactic was to be in front and she executed it perfectly”. 

Asked if Payne will be in the August 13th Olympic 10km test event to be held in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, her coach said: “No, she won't be there, she will be on holiday until August 22nd when it's time to get back into the water. She will be racing in the 1500m next week but it will all depend on how quickly she recovers. The 10km takes a lot out of her but we will know more after I give her a test set. Hopefully she will be ready for the pool."

Today's silver medallist Martina Grimaldi (ITA) was the 10km champion in the 2010 FINA Open Water World Championships in Roberval (CAN), and previously placed third in the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome. The Italian recapped her race: "I just tried to stay focused and keep track of who attacked. I hope I gave the rest of the team more motivation, even though we're all well trained, as we showed today."

Australian Melissa Gorman was in the lead pack for much of the race, often swimming stroke for stroke with Payne. The 26-year-old was an equal leader in the race with 2.5km to go, only to drop off from a lead pack at the 1000m mark. Gorman was the bronze medallist in the same event at last year’s open water world championships in Canada, and earned the gold medal in the 5km in Rome in 2009.  

credit: Girgio Scala

“It’s fantastic to know that I've qualified for London a year out from the Games, and that’s only going to help with my preparation for next year,” said Gorman. “I was right up to the leaders coming into the final turn and when they put on a bit of pace I tried to give it everything I had, but just had nothing left to give so I just tried to hold my position and knew that as long as I didn't let too many people pass me that I would still qualify for the top 10. Once I let the leaders get away from me that was my next objective, to finish in the top 10.”

On the line in today's 10km race were 10 spots for automatic qualification into the 2012 Olympic Games. The 10 women qualified in Shanghai for the second ever Olympic 10km race to be held in the Serpentine Course in Hyde Park in August 2012 include: 4th place: Melissa Gorman, (AUS); 5th: Cecilia Biagioli (ARG); 6th: Poliana Okimoto (BRA); 7th: Jana Pechanova (CZE); 8th: Angela Maurer (GER); 9th: Swann Oberson (SUI) and 10th: Ericka Villaecija Garcia (ESP). All 10 athletes are from different countries. The only opportunity for a second athlete to qualify from the same nation would be if both finished in the top 10.

The air and water temperatures taken at 8am, one hour before the race, was 29.2 and 28.3 respectively at Shanghai's Jinshan City Beach. A total of 56 athletes hailing from 29 different nations entered the water at 9am with 50 of them completing four loops in the rectangular 10km course. Hungary's Eva Risztov received a red card without warning and was ejected from the race for illegal contact with Australian Gorman. Risztov insisted that "it was kind of a water polo match that she was playing with the Australian" alluding to a great deal of physical contact between these two athletes. 

A total of 25 women will race in the Olympic 10km in London. With the selection of 10 today, the remaining 15 athletes must qualify at the Olympic Marathon qualifying event to be held next June in Setubal, Portugal.

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