Keri-Anne Payne becomes first British athlete to qualify for 2012 Olympic Games

Keri-Anne Payne today became the first athlete to qualify for the Great Britain team for the 2012 Olympics when she won the gold medal in the 10 kilometre open water race at the FINA World Championships at Jinshan City Beach.

The 23-year-old led from start to finish apart from a brief moment when Australian Melissa Gorman inched past her at the 7km mark before Payne responded and hit the front again.

She held off a late charge by reigning world champion Martina Grimaldi, of Italy, and was clear when she touched in two hours one minute 58.1 seconds.

The result saw the Stockport ITC swimmer regain the world crown she won in Rome two years ago but also ensured she qualified for London next year as she had to finish in the top 10 although team-mate Cassandra Patten will not be joining her after coming in 21st in 2hrs 2mins 33.6secs.

It was also Great Britain's first medal of the World Championships in Shanghai and was achieved in baking hot conditions which saw some swimmers pulled from the water in distress.

Immediately after the race, the Johannesburg-born swimmer had clearly not digested the enormity of her achievements and was animated by the news she received by phone in front of reporters that her sister, Janine, had gone into labour.

Payne said: "It was brilliant, I've just found out my sister is in labour so hopefully it will be a good day all round."

Of what she had done today, she added: "I really wish I could swear right now but I am not that kind of person.

"It feels amazing, I'm just so happy with myself for doing that.

"To be on that Olympic team at a home Olympics is going to be absolutely amazing.

"I'm really pleased.

"It's a weight off my shoulders. I can concentrate on training now for next year and I don't have to worry about qualifying because I've already done it."

Payne was realistic about how much attention her world title would bring in the next 12 months.

"I'm sure there will be added pressure on me going into the Olympics but I'll just work on that coming into it," she said.

"I'm definitely going to have a target on my back but we'll see how it goes."

Payne, who has been selected for the 1500m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay in China, was still walking on air in a later press conference.

She said: "I must admit I'm still reeling.

"I've still got things to do like drug testing.

"Then I'm going to go back to the hotel and relax.

"I've not heard about my sister yet, I'm just waiting for that to happen.

"That is all I can think about right now, my sister.

"Hopefully after that and I've had a night's sleep it will all sink in tomorrow."

A calm and serene presence outside the water, Payne insisted she had not felt any pressure despite the attention she commanded coming into Shanghai.

"I haven't really noticed it," she said.

"There have been a lot of people speaking to me from the media about this.

"The main focus this year, and it always has been, has been making sure I made the Olympic team.

"I've done that right now so I just need to make sure when I get home I get into the pool as soon as I can and concentrate on next year, making it better."

Coach Sean Kelly, who also trains Patten, believes Payne fully deserved her reward, telling Press Association Sport: "She's trained all her life for this. She's done things no other athlete has done that I've ever seen this year.

"She's sacrificed things no athlete I've ever coached has done this year.

"She deserves it."

Also present was British Olympic Association chief executive and Team GB chef de mission Andy Hunt and he paid tribute to Payne.

Hunt told Press Association Sport: "It's fantastic. One down, 549 to go, an amazing moment.

"What a privilege to be here. I was out with the coaches for the final 1500m and the tension was just extraordinary.

"But brilliant - she is an amazing endurance athlete.

"She's fast, she led from the front which over 10km is extraordinary.

"The Games really do feel very real: the first athlete qualifying a week out from one year to go it feels very real.

"It's brilliant for all the swimmers, all the athletes across the team."

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