LONDON (Reuters) - Open water world champion Keri-Anne Payne has swum next to shark nets, dead dogs and dinner-plate sized jellyfish, so the Olympic competition alongside a few ducks in the Serpentine will seem tame by comparison.
Following a dip in the lake in central London’s Hyde Park, a favourite haunt for swans and recreational swimmers enjoying a refreshing workout before heading to the office, Payne said she was pleasantly surprised by her first splash in the venue that will host the 10km open water events.
“I had to fight with a couple of ducks and I kept getting tangled in the reeds,” the 2011 world champion told a news conference on Wednesday.
“But I’ve swum through way worse things.”
Payne, who swims 70 kilometres each week, was all smiles as she entered the Olympic Park media room eating a yoghurt.
“I‘m glad I did it today. It’s not the most glamorous of sports but we’re all prepared for that when we get in,” she said of her morning swim.
The ducks and reeds were nothing compared to past experiences.
Payne passed enormous jellyfish at the 2007 world championships in Melbourne where she came 11th. In China she found a dead dog in her path.
Another time, when she queried what the big buoys were in Hong Kong, she was told they were “shark nets.”
“I made sure I stayed in the middle of the pack for that one,” she joked.
Payne spoke of the mental strength required to put such obstacles to the back of her mind, but for all her immense willpower and self-confidence she remains unassuming.
The Englishwoman, born in South Africa, is not in the sport for fame or any of the trappings that can be dished out to athletes, especially approaching Games time.
“I‘m not in the sport to get recognition. I want to make open water swimming a big thing in Britain,” she said.
“I‘m not going to run around screaming. People assume as you’re world champion the gold is yours but that’s not the case at all. For me it’s about keeping a low profile.”
British swimming received a huge boost four years ago in Beijing when Rebecca Adlington became the first competitor to win two golds at a single Games since 1908.
Adlington’s face has been everywhere since, she even has an aquatics centre in her name in home town Mansfield, but her friend Payne is not envious.
“If I was jealous I don’t think I would have made her my bridesmaid,” joked the 24-year-old.
Payne burst on to the scene aged 17 when she won 400m freestyle gold at the European short course championships in Austria, her first international event at senior level.
A solid performance at the 2006 Commonwealth Games followed before she switched to open water.
She won silver in the 10km event in Beijing with a time 30 seconds shy of two hours and is the 2009 and 2011 world champion.
Edited by Martyn Herman