It’s been 16 years since Keri-anne Payne made her Commonwealth Games debut and the swimmer still holds incredibly fond memories of representing Team England at the event on two occasions. Keri-anne was still a teenager when she headed to Melbourne in 2006 and once again returned to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi four years later - winning a bronze medal in the 400m medley.
Keri-anne, now 34, represented Team GB at three Olympic Games – winning silver in the 10km open water event in Beijing – and was crowned two-time world champion….yet the opportunity to be a Team England member at a Commonwealth Games is an honour she believes to be unique.
“Being part of Team England is a really special feeling,” said Keri-anne. “It’s an opportunity to represent a home nation and being part of that team - it’s just a really nice atmosphere.
“The team is always so excited because it’s really just once every four years you get the opportunity to do that. Throughout the year, you get the opportunity to represent Great Britain in different events, but it’s really special to go and compete for Team England at a Commonwealth Games.
“Although we’re all friends with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it’s nice to have a different feeling and really good competition between the home countries. It’s so exciting when we go and compete in the pool, and see what countries are going to do better in the relay. It’s competitive but a really friendly competition.”
Friendship is a big part of the Commonwealth Games. From both of her experiences competing, Keri-anne knows just how great a sense of community there is across Team England and the ‘Friendly Games’ as a whole.
“You’ll always say hello to everyone,” she said. “The village vibe feels like a TV show! It feels like you’re walking around a set and it’s so weird because there’s only competing athletes, coaches and support staff.
“In Team England, we had these apartments where we were staying with some of the synchro girls, some of the divers, some of the para swimmers….so it’s very different to an Olympics.
“At the Commonwealth Games, it’s very open to sharing to different people and different sports from different genres - but all while being part of something bigger as Team England.
“Village life is something that the Commonwealth Games organisers really tried to home in on - trying to help everybody feel really calm. I think that’s really important….feeling calm, feeling at home.”
The Commonwealth Games provided mixed fortunes for Keri-anne in the pool. She was left disappointed by her performance in Melbourne, aged 18 at the time, but her bronze medal from Delhi is a moment she recognises as one of the best achievements of her career.
“I’m really proud of that,” said Keri-anne. “It was probably the best medal I won in the pool. As a junior, I did well in the pool and it was when I became a senior athlete that I really stepped into open water.
“It was the perfect time - two years after the previous Olympics, two years before the next Olympics - to focus on something different, to focus on the pool again. That medal does have a really special place for me because it’s the best medal I won in a pool competition.
“It was amazing to have done that as I probably knew it was going to be my last Commonwealths. I didn’t compete in Glasgow because I took a year out from that one, so I kind of knew it was going to be my last and it was amazing just to have the opportunity to win a medal from that one. It was great!”
Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The programme, supported by Sport England, will reinforce the importance of the Commonwealth Games, particularly one hosted on home soil, as a developmental opportunity within the talent and performance pathway!