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Sports fans brave Manchester rain to hail Olympic and Paralympic athletes

Published 17/10/2016

Jessica Ennis-Hill has called time on her athletics career
Jessica Ennis-Hill has called time on her athletics career

Thousands of sports fans braved heavy showers in Manchester to hail the heroic exploits of Great Britain's Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Prime Minister Theresa May also joined the celebrations as she personally thanked members of Team GB and ParalympicsGB for making the country a sporting "superpower" and "inspiring generations" to follow in their footsteps.

The event in Manchester was the first of back-to-back "heroes' parades" to toast Great Britain's phenomenal success in Rio, with the second celebration being held in London on Tuesday.

Both British squads finished second in their respective medal tables at this summer's Games.

Team GB collected 27 golds among their medal total of 67 - two more than from London 2012 - for their best haul from an overseas Olympics. The ParalympicsGB squad, meanwhile, returned from South America with 147 medals, including 64 golds.

A hour-long city centre parade of floats saw several hundred of Britain's sporting heroes and an adoring public - a predicted 200,000 - come together to revel in the summer of success.

The athletes then took to the stage in Albert Square to a rousing reception with musical entertainment provided by Rebecca Ferguson and the Kaiser Chiefs, while the action was relayed on big screens elsewhere in the city centre.

Later, at a reception at the city's Town Hall, Mrs May told the athletes - including triathlete brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee and Paralympian swimming gold medallists Ellie Simmonds and Ellie Robinson - that she wanted to see a similar parade in four years time after Tokyo 2020.

And she vowed her Government would remain committed to increased funding for elite sport.

After posing for several "selfies" with Olympians and Paralympians, the Prime Minister told an invited audience: "Time after time the nation came to a halt as you wrote your names into the history books.

"Armies of armchair fans stayed up late to follow your progress every night - watching in awe and filled with pride.

"So it is absolutely right that we should take this moment as a nation to say an enormous and heartfelt thank you.

"And it is right too that we should gather here in Manchester, where so many medals were made.

"We don't always get to see the dedication and effort put in behind the scenes. But those cold, dark mornings, those intense training sessions, the years of sacrifice and the unwavering commitment to your passion and your profession is an inspiration to us all."

She said that Monday's celebration was also a thankyou to the athletes' support staff, together with their friends and families, for the sacrifices they had shared.

She went on: "This summer you didn't just make history, you helped to shape our future too.

"Today in school playgrounds, parks and sports centres across the country, children are dreaming of emulating your success.

"There are children of every faith and background inspired by the lessons you have taught us - about hard work, dignity, true sportsmanship and above all what it means to be part of a team.

"And because of the incredible performance from our Paralympians, there are thousands more people now thinking differently about disability, thousands of people whose first thought about a disabled person is no longer what they can't do but rather - rightly - what they can do.

"You are changing perceptions and helping to create a better Britain and a better world.

"As we gather to celebrate today, I know that many of you are already back in training and looking forward to Tokyo.

"In four years time, I want to see another great parade like today's - after another summer of success in Tokyo 2020.

"As we saw out there, this has been a homecoming for heroes because that is what you are.

"Thank you for bringing our country together in a wonderful sense of pride. Thank you for inspiring generations to follow in your footsteps. And thank you for making Britain one of the world's great Olympic and Paralympic superpowers."

The leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese, said Manchester was one of the "great sporting cities" with the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in the city providing the "foundation stone" for its Rio successes.

He said: "Manchester in 2016 is home to a range of world-class facilities and is one of the greatest elite training centres in the world."

He said that 64 Manchester-based Olympians and Paralympians won a total of 62 individual and team medals, and repeated the calculation that if the city was a country it would have placed fourth in the world in the medal table.

Lord Coe, chairman of the British Olympic Association, told the Town Hall audience he wanted to add his "mountainous gratitude" to the "rousing reception you have just received by the great people of Manchester".

He said their achievements in Brazil would be "indelibly etched in the annals of British sporting history."

He added: "We wanted you to be our most successful Olympic team to leave these shores, it was always going to be a tall order. In Rio your 67 medals rewrote history.

"Never before has a previous host country bettered their medal tally at the next Games. You represented your country with such great distinction.

"Thank you everyone for what you have done and for once again demonstrating that sport, like nothing else, brings the nation together in such binding and common cause."

Tim Reddish, chairman of the British Paralympic Association, said the recent four-year Paralympic and Olympic cycle had been "something special" but it had happened by design rather than chance.

He said if the movements were a business than they had "delivered big bucks with lots of bling" and that the key ingredients to Paralympic success were "pride, talent and determination".

He thanked the city of Manchester for enabling "our Olympians and Paralympians to share this great experience".

Many of the athletes were set to further celebrate their success in an after-event party before receiving similar acclaim in London on Tuesday.

Press Association

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