Keri-Anne Payne wins open water gold

JINSHAN CITY, China -- Keri-Anne Payne became the first British athlete to qualify for next year's London Olympics by winning the 10-kilometer open water swimming race at the world championships in dominating fashion Tuesday.

Swimming through warm and muggy conditions, Payne led from start to finish to duplicate her title from the previous full worlds in Rome two years ago.

"To be on that Olympic team at a home Olympics is going to be absolutely amazing," said Payne, who took silver at the 2008 Beijing Games.

"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."

Americans Christine Jennings and Eva Fabian placed 13th and 30th, respectively. U.S. coach Jack Fabian -- Eva's father -- said feeding was a bigger problem than the heat.

"Obviously some people did it well, we just didn't do a good job with our feedings," said the coach, who was in charge of handing his athletes food and drinks from the coaches' dock.

For the London Games, open water races will be held in Hyde Park's Serpentine Lake.

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

Payne said after the race that her sister Janine is about to give birth.

"Hopefully it will be a good day all round," she said. "That's all I'm waiting for now."

Payne clocked 2 hours, 1 minute, 58.1 seconds and Martina Grimaldi of Italy took the silver, reaching up to hit the digital touchpad 1.8 seconds later.

Marianna Lymperta of Greece was 3.7 seconds behind to earn the bronze.

The top 10 finishers qualified for the Olympics, with the other 15 spots to be determined next June during a race in Portugal.

Melissa Gorman of Australia finished fourth and Cecilia Biagioli of Argentina was fifth. Also qualifying were: Poliana Okimoto of Brazil, Jana Pechanova of Czech Republic, Angela Maurer of Germany, Swann Oberson of Switzerland and Erika Villaecija Garcia of Brazil.

Amputee swimmer Natalie Du Toit of South Africa finished 39th.

The swimmers competed at Jinshan City Beach, about an hour from Shanghai. The water temperature was about 86 degrees, just under the newly recommended limit of 88 degrees.

"We had already trained in warmer water than this in Singapore, so I was prepared," Grimaldi said. I tried not to even think about it and at a certain point I didn't even feel it. Although my hands became inflamed."

Another Italian, Giorgia Consiglio, was pulled from the water midway through the race because of breathing problems. She was carried to a waiting ambulance and taken to an onsite medical tent.

"She had a respiratory crisis and got scared, but she's OK," said Italian team physician Sergio Crescenzi. "It was just something psychological."

Grimaldi and Consiglio were 1-2 at the open water worlds in Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec, last year.

Safety has become a major concern in open water swimming since the death of American Fran Crippen in the United Arab Emirates last year. Organizers here were using a high-tech sonar system to quickly locate any swimmer that drops below the surface.

Crippen died in October near the end of a 10-kilometer World Cup event in warm temperatures. No one noticed him slip beneath the surface and his body was not found until two hours later.

Gorman and Australian teammate Danielle De Francesco used ice vests and homemade slushies to cool their core body temperature before the race.

Payne didn't have much of a problem with the warm water, although she did feel the sun.

"The conditions were pretty perfect," the winner said. "Maybe it was a little too sunny as it was hot out there and I think I'm going to have outlines of the number '26' on my back where my race numbers were."

The men's 10K race here is Wednesday, while Payne will try to recover for the 1,500-meter freestyle and 800 relay in the pool next week.