EDINBURGH-BASED Keri-anne Payne emerged battered from an extraordinarily brutal 10 kilometre open water race she described as “carnage” as she relinquished her crown at the World Championships in Spain.
The 25-year-old had won the 2009 and 2011 world titles before finishing fourth in a gruelling race in the Serpentine at the London Olympics last summer.
However, that was nothing compared to the brutality at the Moll de la Fusta at Barcelona with Payne clearly impeded at one of the turns on the final lap, which she began in second place, putting paid to her medal ambitions after a race in which she had always been one of the front-runners.
Payne is made of stern stuff but today was notable in its aggression and the Briton was close to tears after she came in 14th in one hour 58 minutes 25.8 seconds, with fellow Briton Danielle Huskisson 33rd in 2hrs 1min 31.5secs.
Brazilian pair Poliana Okimoto Cintra and Ana Marcela Cunha took the top two places with Germany’s Angela Maurer in third.
Payne said: “I tried really hard. The focus for me this season is just to get back in and enjoy training which I’ve absolutely loved and enjoy a new club [Warrender in Edinburgh]. I was really excited to come here. Last night I was bouncing off the walls ready to go.
“But to be honest, I am so disappointed that girls think they can be that rough during the race and get away with it.
“The first two laps were totally fine, no problem, but all of a sudden it was absolute carnage. I’ve no idea how many places I lost going round one buoy.
“I was getting ducked, getting dunked, getting hit in the face, getting pushed about and swum over. It’s just not what I was hoping I guess.”
The swimmer added: “The referees before the race said they were going to be really strict on this and I don’t think they were strict enough. I don’t think this race needs to be won on who has got the biggest elbows or who can dunk somebody the most.
“It should be done on skill and agility – maybe that is part of it and maybe it’s a part I am not very good at.
“The buoys were the worst – I had my leg pulled back on one of them and then somebody came next to me, under me, on top of me, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I really don’t want to sound like I am moaning because at the end of the day I just didn’t have enough, I didn’t have what it takes to be the world champion.
“It took a lot of energy but I made it here and did what I wanted to do this season when this time last year I was pretty much ready to throw the towel in.”
Payne only decided to return to open water in February, months after she moved to Edinburgh with new husband and fellow Olympian David Carry where she joined the Warrender club.
She increased her training, churning out 75,000 metres a week in the Royal Commonwealth Pool under Laurel Bailey and won last month’s test event in her first race back.
The men’s race 24 hours earlier had also been brutal at times with fists and elbows flying, eyeball to eyeball confrontations around the buoys and swimmers emerging scratched and bloodied.
Today Payne went to the front from the off, her pink and black panelled suit making her easily identifiable.
Eva Risztov had won in the Serpentine last year, when Payne was battered out of the medals. The Hungarian led after the first circuit, 1.6secs ahead of Payne with Huskisson in seventh. Risztov maintained her lead although Payne was within touching distance and the pair were again the top two at halfway, the gap identical but with Italian Martina Grimaldi in third and Huskisson fourth.
Payne fell a bit behind but she moved up on the outside to claw back new leader Kalliopi Araouzou going into the final lap, a medal a real possibility.
At one point there were six women in a line at the head of the field, Payne among them, but her challenge was ended, the water a seething mass of arms and elbows.
It was a straight sprint down the final straight between the Brazilian pair, Okimoto Cintra winning out, as Payne’s hopes were left in tatters.