British Swimming in rude health – Payne

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Open water swimmer Keri-Anne Payne predicts a bright future for British Swimming following a successful medal haul at the Commonwealth Games.

British athletes picked up 47 medals in total (15 Gold, 15 Silvers, 17 Bronze) in Glasgow, 10 shy of the successful Australian team.

But the absence of the USA, China and European teams led many experts to reign in their optimism that this would lead to a major breakthrough in the international ranks.

But Payne, 26, believes the potential shown in the Tollcross Swimming Centre will lead to bigger and better things.

“It’s the youngsters taking that step forward, getting that experience, that’s been great,” she explains.

“That’s the great thing about the Commonwealth Games. It’s still two years out from the Olympics, but it’s valuable experience that people are getting now.

“The likes of Ross Murdoch doing that 200 breaststroke, the second fastest of all time, is an outstanding place to be.”

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After years in a doldrums around the turn of the millennium, British Swimming has enjoyed a purple patch in recent years, with Liam Tancock’s short course success and Rebecca Adlington taking two gold medals in Beijing.

Fastest forward to 2012, and two bronzes for Adlington and silver for Michael Jamieson were Team GB’s only return from the pool.

Michael Scott’s resignation following the disappointing return opened the door for Chris Spice as performance director and head coach Bill Furniss to overhaul the funding and competition structure

“They’re finally in their roles and have everything going for them,” says Payne, who will return to competition later in 2014.

“This is the first competition where everything has been running smoothly for a long period of time. It’s obviously working.

“Now it’s about pushing that through for the next two years.”

“We do have a young squad that want to be on that Olympic team and they’re going to fight so hard for the next two years to make sure they’re performing as well as they performed at the Commonwealth Games.”

So of this young team, who can we expect to challenge for top honours in Brazil in two years time?

Aimee Wilmott, 21, added European bronze to two silvers in Glasgow and is considered a major prospect in multiple events.

200 IM British record holder Siobhan-Marie O’Connor burst onto the scene in Glasgow with a gold and three silvers. Aged just 18, her growth is a long way from plateauing.

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On the Men’s team, Ross Murdoch, 20, Adam Peaty, 19 and Ben Proud, 19, have all proven they are capable of delivering under extreme pressure against the World’s best.

Payne, who lives in Edinburgh with husband David Carry, earmarked Scots Murdoch and Stephen Milne as ones to watch.

“They’ve taken such leaps forward,” she beams. “They’re only going to get better.

“Every time I’ve seen them race, they’ve done a different race each time. They’ve still got so much to learn and figure out the best way to do their races.

“Also James Guy has had a great couple of years from the World Championships into the Commonwealth Games. In a world class field with the Australians in the 400 freestyle, to sneak a medal in third place and an outstanding PB, I can only see his career going forward.”

But what of the old guard? Payne, a veteran of Beijing and London, has taken time out of the sport in 2014 and lost her funding from British Swimming.

The lure of Rio will see her return to the open water again shortly as she bids to go one better than the silver she picked up in 2008.

She explains: “What’s been amazing about this break is that I’ve got so much more perspective.

“What I’ve done this season is learn how to deal with the fighting and aggression with I’ve never been very good at. I’m trying to become a very rounded open water swimming.

“I’m getting ready for two 10k races in China. It’ll be really interesting to see how I get on and it’s the ramp up to the World Championships in Russia, which is the Olympic qualifier.

“I’ll probably know this time next year whether I’ll be going to Rio or not.”

Will she then hang up her goggles for one last time?

“I said I was going to stop after Beijing. Then I said I was going to stop after London. If I say I’ll stop after Rio, I’ll probably not. My target is to be on that podium in Rio.”