Ever-present Payne ready to reap the rewards in Rio

Ever-present Payne ready to reap the rewards in Rio

15 August 2016 / 09:00

Keri-Anne Payne is not afraid of hard work – as an open water swimmer it comes with the territory.

But as she dives into her third Olympic Games today, the Beijing 2008 silver medallist could not be more confident that her preparations have put her on the start line in the best shape possible.

Described in her own words as unorthodox, the latest Olympiad has been one of great effort but also, perhaps more crucially for Payne, enjoyment and discovery.

From taking judo lessons from London 2012 silver medallist Gemma Gibbons to travelling the world, she made the decision to initially take a slight step back from swimming, most notably in the aftermath of agonisingly missing out on a medal in front of her home fans at London 2012.

But make no mistake, the passion and determination of the 28-year-old, who has appeared at every Olympics in which women's open water swimming has featured, burns as bright as ever.

“Finishing fourth at a home Olympics was pretty heartbreaking, it was something that took a lot out of me mentally and physically,” she said.

“After London, I went to the World Championships, had a bit of a tough time and wasn’t really sure whether I wanted to carry on swimming or not.

“But with the support of people, we put a plan in place which was to take a year out of the water and only train three or four times a week.

“Not a lot of people would do at the age of 25 but I just wanted to work on different things.

“I did a couple of stuff outside of the pool. I travelled the world and I did races I had never had the chance to do before, races that were a lot shorter, races that were in cold water, races where girls and boys mixed together.

“It’s been a really great three year cycle, I’ve had so much fun and I’ve had such a wonderful support team as well, helping me to get where I am.”

Despite the apparently carefully mapped out plan towards Rio, it was actually only in June that Payne, a double open water 10km world champion, secured her place for Brazil when she finished second at the final Olympic qualification event in Portugal, with her place then rubberstamped by the British Olympic Association a few days later.

A pressure situation for some – Payne on the other hand appears to have taken it all in her stride with peaking for Rio very much the main focus.

“I think (British Swimming Marathon Lead) Bernie Dietzig and I worked out that by the time I race in Rio it will be close to 200,000m of racing in the last two years,” she explained.

“We set a plan in place which was to try and make me the best, well-rounded open water swimmer in the world so that when I am stood on that pontoon in Rio I am very confident in all my training and racing and preparation we have done.

“We’ve made sure that all the tactics and all the learning and all the races I have done have put me in the best position on the day to give it my absolute best in Rio.”

Payne was just two days shy of her 17th birthday when she won 400m freestyle gold in the pool at the 2004 European Short Course Championships in Vienna – her first senior international meet.

At Beijing 2008, she then combined both swimming disciplines, finishing second in the open water while also competing in the 200m and 400m individual medley in the pool at the National Aquatics Centre while London 2012 was just solely focused on the open water, with a medal her aim.

It was not to be forthcoming – the passing of time allowing Payne to reflect more comfortably on the individual mistake which cost her a podium finish – although don’t bet against her bookending that experience with another Olympic medal.

“Despite finishing fourth, one of my proudest memories to date is walking about for that race and seeing 30,000 people had come to watch open water swimming,” she said.

“Before I went to Beijing I had to explain what open water swimming was all about and to go out four years later and see all those people was amazing.

“The sport has changed a huge amount since 2008. I wouldn’t have put myself through the last four years if I didn’t think I could win a medal.”

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