By Tom Degun

Keri-Anne_Payne_19-07-11July 19 - Keri-Anne Payne has become the first British athlete to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games next year as she today claimed victory in the women's 10 kilometre open water event at the FINA World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai.

The 23-year-old, born in South Africa before moving to Britain, produced a superb sprint finish to retain the World Championship title she claimed in Rome two years ago as she touched in two hours 01min 58.1sec.

Italian Martina Grimaldi claimed silver just behind Payne in 2.01:59.9 and Marianna Lymperta of Greece took the bronze in 2.02:01.8, with all of the top 10 finishers in the race automatically earning a London 2012 Olympic spot subject to fitness.

"I really wish I could swear right now but I am not that kind of person," said Payne, who claimed a silver medal in the open water event at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

"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.

"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.

"The conditions were pretty perfect.

"I just tried to make it as easy as I could because I knew that if someone did attack I would have enough in my legs to defend and kick-on."

Payne admitted that there will now be added pressure on her at London 2012 when the Olympic open water event takes place at The Serpentine in Hyde Park.

"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's gold gave Britain their first medal of the prestigious competition in China and she will now turn her attention to the pool programme, where she has qualified for the 1500 metres freestyle and 4x200m relay.

However, the pressure is now off Payne after she qualified for London 2012 in her specialist event and her performance drew praise from the British Olympic Association (BOA) chief executive Andy Hunt, who will be Team GB Chef de Mission at the Olympics next year.

"Keri-Anne's outstanding performance to win gold at the World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai is a terrific personal accomplishment and the Olympic qualification represents a significant milestone on the road to 2012 for Team GB," said Hunt, who is in Shanghai watching the action.

"It is very appropriate that the first athlete to qualify a named place for London 2012 comes in an event which brought us so much success at the last Olympics, where Team GB's exceptional swimmers brought home half of the six medals on offer in the open water discipline.

"On a personal note, I was privileged to witness such a thrilling race first-hand and fully appreciate the talent and sheer determination required to succeed in this gruelling discipline.

"In terms of Team GB Olympic qualification, that's one down, around 549 to go.

"Well done Keri-Anne Payne for getting the ball rolling."

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