Team GB Exclusive: Payne excited for Rio challenge

Team GB Exclusive: Payne excited for Rio challenge

24 March 2015 / 09:23

She's the action girl who thinks Angelina Jolie would be the ideal actress to play her in a film, has battled jellyfish and sharp elbows to win two world titles and doesn't like apples.

But with exactly 500 days to go until the Rio Olympics, Keri-Anne Payne still wants to write the definitive entry in her varied biography.

Open water swimmer Payne is eyeing a third Olympic appearance in Brazil following her silver medal in Beijing and agonising fourth place - 0.4 seconds off the podium - at London 2012.

But in a sport best described as water torture - Payne covers 10km in approximately two hours - she admits coping with the challenges of the rough stuff is much tougher than choppy seas and the predatory dangers that lurk beneath.

"Finishing fourth at London totally sucked," she told, as she visited SwimExpo in Manchester last week.

"A gold medal in Rio would be a dream but I'm already an Olympic silver medallist and a double world champion. I’ll always have those things and no-one can take them away from me but now it’s about proving the point that I can win the Olympics and that I can win it fairly.

"There’s a lot of violence in my sport. In my last race, my teammate Danielle had her nose broken in the first ten minutes. 

"I want to win the gold medal in the most sportsmanlike way possible. I want to do it for my family as well, for all the sacrifices that they’ve made because I’m still living the dream really, travelling all round the world doing what I love."

Payne - who switched training bases from Stockport to Edinburgh, where she lives with husband and former Olympic swimmer David Carry - toyed with retirement after London and took some time away from the sport to rediscover her passion.

And a third place at the recent Marathon Swimming World Cup in Abu Dhabi was an encouraging performance that gives cause for confidence.

This summer's World Championship in Kazan remains the key target, where Payne, 27, will seek to claim a third gold medal after topping the podium in Rome and Shanghai.

"This is pretty much five or six months of me being back in the water, so everything is new," she added.

"The first bit is just a matter of riding the wave of excitement about getting back in and now everything is a bonus and we’re working on things as they come. Training’s going well, I’m swimming well in the pool and I seem to be getting fairly decent results in the open water events.

"I’m really excited about another worlds this summer but after that I need to be in the top ten in the world to make the Olympic team, so all my focus is going into making that.

"With the last three years I’ve had, everything has been specifically calculated, with the year off and now the build-up again, ending with gold medal in Rio."

Payne discovered open water swimming by accident. Always suited to longer distances in the pool, she set the national junior 800m freestyle record as a 15-year old but failed to medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and saw her funding cut.

Open water swimming was making its Olympic debut in Beijing and long-time coach Sean Kelly suggested a switch. Two years later Payne took silver, with training partner Cassie Patten famously claiming bronze, proof that a door slamming shut can often open a pathway to greater things.

"I seem to have a sat nav built into my brain which means I swim in a straight line, so for me it’s really exciting and exhilarating to swim in open water," she adds.

"It’s a freedom and a new feeling you get when you go to an open water event, as opposed to staring at the same tiles over and over again.

"There’s so much to think about out there, ‘who’s that touching my feet’ or ‘who’s that swimming over the top of me’, and where the buoys are, where the feeding station is. 

"I’ve even forgotten how many laps I’ve done, which can be a real issue. If it’s not very competitive and if it’s quite slow, I have actually been distracted and wandered off following some of the fish. In Israel we had a few manta rays too, so I had to remind myself that I was in a race."

Payne is the first to admit British swimmers wanted more from their home Olympics - with Michael Jamieson's 200m breaststroke silver and Rebecca Adlington's double bronze the medal returns.

But last year's Commonwealth Games gave an encouraging glimpse of the future, with rising stars such as Adam Peaty, who won double gold in Glasgow and four Europeans titles, including setting a world record, graduating from promising hopeful to proven international performer.

"I think British swimming is in a really good place," Payne told 

"Obviously we took a lot of stick after the Olympics because we didn’t get the medals we were targeted to get, myself included, but what we did do as a team was reach more finals and semi-finals than we ever have before. 

"That was brushed under the carpet a little bit, which was a shame because it was a lot of the young members of the team making those finals. But now, they’ve had that experience of an Olympics or a Commonwealths and they’re growing and maturing.

"What’s exciting is that even though people didn’t say we swam very well in London, those youngsters did very well for their age, and now those swimmers are making their way up the rankings.

"At Rio, they’re not going to take people out who they aren’t confident are going to be in and around the medals. It might not be the biggest team, but they’ll be packing a big punch." 

Packing a punch? Sounds like the perfect metaphor for an open water swimmer.

By James Toney and James Gray, Sportsbeat

© Sportsbeat 2015