Nation welcomes Olympic stars

JESSICA SUTTON AND GEORGE HEAGNEY
Last updated 07:55 16/08/2012
Simon van Velthooven
FAIRFAX NZ
HAPPY HOMECOMING: Cyclist Simon van Velthooven, with his keiren bronze medal.
NZ Olympians arrive home
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Rebecca Scown, Joseph Sullivan and Juliette Haigh with their medals.

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Some of Manawatu's Olympians have arrived in New Zealand after a tiring but rewarding few weeks in London competing against the world's best athletes.

Family, friends and fans were at Auckland International Airport yesterday to welcome home the New Zealand Olympics squad.

Feilding cyclist Simon van Velthooven was greeted by his aunt, uncle and cousin.

With his Olympic keirin bronze medal dangling around his neck, he was pleased to be home but said he enjoyed his time at the Games.

"When you're in the [Olympic] village you see all the big names, all the athletics superstars and we're small fish in a big pond," he said.

"When you come back to New Zealand and get a reception like this, it is great.

"All the people cheering for you."

The 23-year-old cyclist was only too happy to let fans get a hold of his medal, which he called "the nation's medal".

"I take it off wherever I can and let people hold it. It's such a cool thing to touch and see."

He hoped to inspire the next generation of Games athletes. "Anyone can do it, in my eyes. I can't wait for the next rotation [Rio Olympics 2016]."

Van Velthooven will arrive back in Palmerston North next week, before he heads away to compete in the Japanese Professional Keirin League.

An exhausted Black Sticks player Nick Wilson, who returned to Palmerston North last night, said it was "good to be home".

"It [the Olympics] was amazing," he said.

"The atmosphere around the whole Games was great. Other than our performance, it was awesome. It's good to be home though."

He said the support of New Zealanders was more than he ever expected.

"It's a real honour to be an Olympian and there were people from all over New Zealand supporting us. You could really feel that.

"You really feel like you're playing for the nation."

Manawatu's other bronze medallist, cycling team pursuit rider Jesse Sergent, is in Spain with his European road cycling team.

Black Sticks players Emily Naylor and Kayla Sharland have stayed on in Europe on holiday.

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- Manawatu Standard

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