By Steven Oldham, Chief Sports Correspondent
Stockport Metro swimmer Keri-Ann Payne is celebrating twice over after winning the 10km open-water swim in Shanghai, a result which seals her qualification for London 2012.
Payne, 23, and a silver medallist in Beijing 2008, is the first athlete in any sport to book her place in the Team GB squad for next year.
She completed the race first and regained the title she first won in 2009 in a time of two hours, one minute and 58 seconds ahead of Italy’s Martina Grimaldi and Marianna Lymperta of Greece a distant third.
Her coach at Stockport Metro, Sean Kelly, praised Keri-Ann.
He said: “This result is a combination of hard work, consistency and talent.”
Given that she only had to finish in the top 10 to qualify for next year, it is even more satisfying for Payne to have won gold in a strong field.
Sean said that Keri-Ann’s qualification was the fruit of a lot of sacrifice by him, Keri-Ann and their families.
“Winning makes all the hard work worthwhile,” he said, before adding, “The Olympics is the one for all of us.”
Heywood-based Keri-Ann is one of several world class swimmers at Stockport Metro, alongside the likes of James Goddard, Michael Rock and Cassie Patten.
The club, based in the Grand Central Swimming Pool, is the most successful in British history. Former alumni include Olympic bronze medallists Graeme Smith and Steve Parry.
Sean said: “For me, we have the best programme in the world – from beginners to Olympians.”
Keri-Ann’s success is the highlight of Team GB’s trip to China so far – Rebecca Adlington’s silver in the 400m freestyle is the only other medal the swimmers have won so far, leaving Great Britain ninth in the medals table.
Swimming is widely regarded as one of Team GB’s best chances to bag medals following strong performances in the previous Olympic and Commonwealth Games.