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Keri-anne is over the pain of her London disapointment

June 17, 2013
Tight finish: Payne missed out on an Olympic medal in the 10km swim by just 0.4 seconds

Tight finish: Payne missed out on an Olympic medal in the 10km swim by just 0.4 seconds

It is not easy carrying on pounding out the lengths of the pool when your husband and best friend have retired; when your dreams of an Olympic gold medal on home soil ended with a black eye and a dramatic fourth-placed finish.

But Keri-anne Payne insists she missed the 5am alarm clock, the hard graft and the sheer pleasure of swimming when she took time out to get married and reflect on London 2012.

Her husband, David Carry, and bridesmaid Rebecca Adlington have called time on their careers, but the 2011 world open water 10-kilometre champion will continue. She has moved from Manchester to Edinburgh, joined a new club, and, quite simply, she is having fun again.

Yet unlike others for whom London did not deliver the golden dream for which they longed, Payne seems to have no burning desire to compensate for missing out on a medal by 0.4seconds. She paints the Games only in light, airy colours, claiming that walking out in front of 20,000 people to swim in the Serpentine was one of the major positives of her career.

‘I’m incredibly proud of how the performance ended up in London,’ she says. ‘Obviously it wasn’t quite the result that Britain — myself included — had expected of me.

‘I could easily have gone after I got swum over and hit and got a black eye. I had every right to because I had just been punched in the face. But I didn’t.

‘I could hear them cheering and they helped me get up from eighth position to fourth and just behind the medals. I’m proud of that. I have fond memories of London, apart from getting punched.’

At first, Payne’s words feel insincere, as if she is still trying to convince herself, but with repetition they appear rational and straightforward, helped by the unsentimental tone of her slightly clipped South African twang.

Maybe it was hard to comprehend initially because this perspective is so rare in crestfallen athletes who do not reach the podium. Their ultimately selfish pursuit of glory resulted only in disappointment and their egos so often need a gentle massage.

‘Certainly after an Olympic year you have a lull and I’m no stranger to that; to having a bit of a dip,’ says Payne. ‘There was a while when I was struggling a bit and was unsure of things. But I’m just really enjoying it all again.

‘You realise that being an elite athlete is everything you’ve worked for in the last 15 years of your life, but you have to try not to take things for granted.

‘I’m still the best open water swimmer in Britain and I’m going to go out there and just really give myself the opportunity to enjoy it and see how it goes.’

Payne is right. What is the point in dwelling on the negatives of something that cannot be changed?

Use them for motivation, but there comes a time when you have to lock away those memories, just like world 400m hurdles champion Dai Greene, who also finished fourth in London, has done with his Team GB kit.

Behind Payne’s smile there is a stubborn, steadfast refusal to beat herself down. This must be the side of her that chooses to kick and fight her way through a brutal, two-hour open water race, as opposed to the glamorous poster girl who seemed to be everywhere last summer.

Rio de Janeiro in 2016, though, seems too far away for her, but she has already been selected for this year’s World Championships. There is no open water swimming at next year’s Commonwealth Games and so, as she says quite simply, she will pursue her ‘other career’ in Glasgow, where she hopes to be a part of the television presenting team. You feel Payne might just bring a bit of much-need perspective to that, too.

Keri-anne Payne is taking part in British Gas SwimBritain, a programme aiming to encourage half a million people to improve their fitness by swimming more regularly by 2015

Laura Williamson


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