S. African Keri Ann Payne at RHAC Sunday.
LOCAL swimmers and their coaches, parents and well-wishers will be graced with the presence of South African Olympian Keri Ann Payne at the Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre on Sunday when she is expected to share the experiences that have driven her since the 2012 London Olympics.
Born to British parents in Johannesburg, Payne moved to Britain when she was 13. She now lives near Manchester and trains with the British swimming squad as part of Stockport ITC (Intensive Training Centre).
Payne has been one of the top competitors in 10km Open Water event since she won Olympic gold in 2008. She also took gold at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, but finished a disappointing fourth at the 2012 Olympics in her home country. Her placings at the last two World Championships have also been less than impressive finishing, 14th in 2013 and 15th last summer in Kazan.
She said: “I had a decision to make and couldn’t delay it any longer. It was a choice between carrying on swimming or calling it a day. I sat down with my team of experts after London 2012 and we came up with a plan. The ultimate goal was to be the most well-rounded open water swimmer to stand on the pontoon before the race at Rio 2016. Everything I did over the last four years was geared towards preparing me for that.
“I took a year out of the circuit in 2014 — a very unorthodox move with the Olympic Games just two years later but it was a huge part of what I needed to do. I travelled the world, meeting amazing people. I’ve been in races I’ve never been able to do before because travel was either too long or it was the wrong time of season. I raced in cold water and I competed where there was a mix of men and women to get used to the fighting element of the sport.
“I even did a judo lesson with Olympians Gemma Gibbons and Euan Burton. It was incredibly surreal having Gemma trying to pin me down! The reason I did it was to understand that if I can deal with this on land then I can happily confront somebody trying to swim over the top of me in the open water. The 2015 cycle was about getting back in the water and racing the world circuit to familiarize myself with the swimmers who would be at the Olympics.
“I used that time to understand their tactics, putting myself in uncomfortable situations and learning new things. That brought me to 2016 where training was the focus. There’s not been as much racing as last year but enough to keep me fresh and aware of the other competitors. Our target throughout has been on making me the strongest athlete I can be and we’ve used the last few years trying to reach that point.”