Rousing welcome as Olympians return

Fans swamp airport to join medal glory

MICHAEL FIELD AND LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 12:35 15/08/2012

NZ Olympians arrive

Gold medallist Olympians arrive

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NZ's Olympic heroes returned home today, saying they want to repay the debt they owe the public and hoping they have inspired others.

Scores of fans were there to welcome the team, which were returning on two flights from London, with the first arriving at Auckland International Airport at 9am and the other close to 11am.

Men's pair champion Eric Murray clutched his son in one arm when he appeared shortly before midday, his gold medal around his neck.

Murray said all the athletes wanted to repay the public for their investment in them. He hoped they would be able to get around the country to meet fans.

He said the whole team felt for shot putter Valerie Adams missing out on her gold medal ceremony.

"It's what you love, what you work for."

Murray dismissed suggestions that Nadzeya Ostapchuk, the Belarusian disqualified for drug use, had been ambushed or tricked: "that is what all drug cheats say".

His team-mate, Hamish Bond, said the welcome was fantastic.

Olympic single-sculls champion Mahe Drysdale beamed his way through the crowds.

"Here you go mate," he said as a small child reached forward to hold the medal.

Team chef de mission Dave Currie said the weclome was wonderful.

"I've done seven, and every one is good, but this might be the best,"

Currie, whose handling of the Adams' registration-for-competition issue caused consternation, said calling her with news of her gold "was the best phone call of my life".

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Kierin bronze medallist Simon van Velthooven gleefully lept into the waiting scrum, passing his medal around the crowd.

"I want everyone to hold it and see how heavy it is," he said. "I can't wait to get out there and show everyone this medal and inspire some more people to do the same as what I did."

Van Velthooven was already eyeing greater feats.

The Feilding 23-year-old was greeted by his aunty, uncle and cousin, who held a doubled-sided sign saying "Rhino Rules" on one side and "party at his house" on the other.

"This is what any sportsman wants to do, bring home the bacon for New Zealand," van Velthooven beamed.

Inspired by British cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy, who secured his sixth gold in London, van Velthooven pledged his desire to follow in his idol's footsteps after spending a night on the town with him.

"This medal is just a carrot for the donkey in my eyes. I can't wait for the next rotation," he said in reference to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"The bronze is great, but after seeing Chris Hoy win his sixth gold, I want to go down that road for sure. After racing we talked more and more now. We went out and had a night together."

His aunty, Sue, believed her nephew had the potential to kick on and realise his lofty dreams.

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"He'll be like a Rhino with a sore head waiting four years to do it again."

Van Velthooven's younger cousin, 18-year-old New Zealand rowing prospect, Louis, wanted to emulate his courageous performance on the world stage.

"It was very inspirational, something to remember forever. It will be my dream to be there one day, too," he said.

A buzzing Kiwi BMX Olympic silver medallist Sarah Walker was looking forward to getting home.

She said it was great being on a return flight with the other athletes and was delighted with the welcome.

"Its great to be home," she said as little children, families and the media each jostled to get a touch of her medal.

"So happy to be back."

A tiny four-year-old French boy, Martin Premoselli, was plainly overwhelmed to hold Walker's medal for a moment.

"We are just passing through on our way home, its wonderful," his mother said.

One family group, waiting for cycling bronze pursuit rider Aaron Gates, arrived early for a front row seat.

"I'm his girlfriend's dad," Danny Pooley said, proudly holding up a team banner.

Dozens of airport staff turned out to watch the carefully controlled arrival.

Regular passengers were directed another way as the Olympic squad arrived.

Among the other arrivals - and noticed by many - were members of the Samoan, Nauruan and Cook Islands Olympic teams.

- Fairfax Media

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