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Heroes' welcome as Team GB's Olympic stars return home

Team GB's triumphant Olympians arrived at Heathrow singing the national anthem as their gold-nosed British Airways jet touched down on home soil.

The "most talented" Team GB squad ever took selfies on board the BA2016 flight, with double gold-medallist Max Whitlock trying out some of his gymnastics routine on the first-class seats.

He and champion boxer Nicola Adams were the first two stars to emerge from the plane and stood at the top of the stairs as the rest of the team filed out to cheers and applause.

Friends, family and well-wishers, adorned with union flags, banners and red, white and blue balloons, waited to welcome home the Olympic heroes.

The stars were greeted with cheers, applause and screams as many supporters rushed to embrace their loved ones after weeks spent thousands of miles apart. Children crouched in front of the barriers clutching small British flags, desperate to glimpse the sporting stars and hoping for an autograph.

Speaking at a press conference, athletes and staff talked to the media about the Games, national pride and athletic funding.

Silver medal-winning rower Katherine Grainger said she felt the timing had been right, especially given recent political turmoil.

She said:"I think the lovely thing is that the London Games were undoubtedly embraced by the nation. I think we all felt that almost couldn't be replicated, it couldn't happen again, it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

"It has almost felt like it has been a tough year for the country, a lot has happened politically in the nation in the last few months. I think the nice thing about sport is it does unite people and it lifts people.

"So, yeah, I think it is the time and the place and the timing means that it is one of the best Olympics - the best sporting events we probably ever had."

Team GB's chef de mission Mark England paid tribute to all the athletes who had travelled to Rio and described the reception in London as "overwhelming".

He said: "As we attended the Games, we had high hopes for success from the most talented team that we had ever taken away."

World record-breaking swimmer Adam Peaty said not being intimidated by "big names" such as Michael Phelps was key to winning Britain's first male swimming gold in 28 years.

He said: "It was an absolute honour to be in one of the first events. Even when I'm on my last legs, completely dead ... it was good to get the team a good head start."

Peaty added you could not afford to doubt your own ability at an Olympics and "you've got to attack and that's what we did".

He said: "It's great to be back on British soil again and I can't wait to inspire the next generation of British athletes."

Bronze medallist Dina Asher-Smith, who watched London 2012 as a 16-year-old, said she hoped she could inspire others to get on to the athletics track.

The sprinter, now 20, said being part of Team GB gave you a special confidence "when you stand at the start line" and that the support staff were the best in Rio.

Asked how important the issue of funding was for Team GB, Sir Hugh Robertson, vice-chairman of the British Olympic Association, said it was "absolutely crucial".

He explained: "When we were looking at this in the run-up to London 2012, I think we identified four components to Olympic success - funding, structure, coaching, and the athletes themselves.

"The important things about the funding is not only the quantum that comes from the National Lottery and the Exchequer, but that actually it is guaranteed for a number of cycles."

A total of 320 athletes and support staff travelled back from Rio in a gold-nosed British Airways Boeing 747 with "victoRIOus" emblazoned on the side.

Team GB won 67 medals - 27 golds - and finished second in the table behind the USA.

Many stars of London 2012 successfully defended their crowns four years on, including Mo Farah on the track, Nicola Adams in the boxing ring and Jade Jones on the taekwondo mats.

Just over 35% of British athletes who went to Rio returned with a medal - including every single track cycling member.


From Belfast Telegraph