Crowds line up to see Olympics heroes

Young fans thrilled to see medallists

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 12:00 24/08/2012
Daniel Tobin

Hundreds of Cantabrians gathered to welcome the New Zealand Olympic team at the official ceremony at Pioneer Stadium.

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I LIKE IT: Michael Anngow, 15 months, keeps a good hold on Eric Murray's gold medal during a visit to Daffodil House with his grandmother Sonya Turner.

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Hundreds of Canterbury schoolchildren flocked to meet their Olympic heroes today.

The Avonhead community descended on Merrin School to catch a glimpse of the New Zealand Olympic team this afternoon.

Pupils, teachers, parents, grandparents and some Burnside High School pupils lined up to meet BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker.

The Oly-Whites football team was represented by player Tim Myers, coach Neil Emblen and equipment manager Seamus Marten.

Black Sticks hockey manager Kevin Marr, track cyclist Shane Archibold and women's 470 sailing coach Nathan Handle also delighted the crowds.

Kate Reilly, 11, could not believe how heavy Walker's medal was.

Reilly won a Press competition that brought the Olympians to her school.

She received a hug from Walker, an Olympic pin and tried on her silver medal.

"I was mouthing 'Oh my god' to Mum when she hugged me,'' she said.

Dave Griffin, who has two grandchildren at the school, said it was a fantastic opportunity to congratulate the Olympic team.

He queued by for Walker's signature alongside fellow grandparents Bethany and Don Clarke, who also have grandchildren who attend the school.

Teacher aide Kelly Barr said pupils had been excited all week.

"It's not every day that this happens,'' she said.

"It's great to be able to show [the Olympians] how proud we are of them."

Children play games with Olympians

After the official ceremony at Pioneer Stadium in Spreydon, children jumped at the chance to try beat Valerie Adams' winning throw, meet Mark Todd and try to out-row each other.

Children filled Centennial Park after the official welcome-home event to meet their heroes and play games, including inflatable boxing, sack races and the shot put.

Samuel Judge, 10, travelled from Ashburton for the chance to get Lisa Carrington's signature.

"I really love the Olympics," he said.

A moment's silence to remember the New Zealand soldiers who died in Afghanistan started the official welcome-home event.

Event MCs Jason Gunn and Dave Fitzgerald asked the crowd for a moment's silence in respect of Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, Corporal Luke Tamatea and Private Richard Harris.

Rower Mahe Drysdale told the crowd that standing on the podium listening to the national anthem was an "amazing moment" .

Drysdale, whose family and friends watched him receive his gold medal, said he felt proud on the podium.

The support from New Zealanders could be felt by all the athletes, he said.

"We felt that you were up in the night screaming at us."

Silver medallist Sarah Walker said she would compete in Rio de Janerio in four years.

The BMX rider told the crowd she was committed to representing the country again.

It was great to be part of a large New Zealand contingent as her sport was an individual one, she said.

Chef de mission Dave Currie said the Olympians were blown away by the welcome from Cantabrians.

He said the athletes were "unbelievably proud" to be part of the team.

New Zealand's 15th placing was a wonderful achievement, and Christchurch was the only place that was appropriate to host the event, he said.

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Currie also paid tribute to the dead soldiers.

Mayor Bob Parker thanked the Olympians for being inspiring New Zealanders and their generosity in allowing Christchurch to welcome them home.

The welcome-home event started at noon with 88 Kiwi Olympians, including 23 of the 27 medallists.

Children cheered and reached out for their heroes as the Olympians entered the stadium.

The New Zealand Army Band led the team of athletes in, while Nathaniel Foster, of West Spreydon School, acted as the flag bearer.

The medallists led the procession with their medals hanging around their necks and posed for photographs on the stage together before their team-mates joined them.

Levi Franks, 8, and mother Sally had arrived at 10.15am to make sure they would get a glimpse of their favourite Olympians.

Levi, who hopes to represent New Zealand in athletics when he grows up, said he was excited to see the medals.

Sally Franks said she took her son along as it was a great chance for him to meet great athletes and be inspired.

Charlotte McDonald was "excited" to meet the equestrian team.

The 11-year-old, who wore her equestrian helmet, hopes to be an Olympian one day.

Her mum, Brigitte Mahan, let Charlotte have time off school for the event.

"It's an awesome experience to be able to celebrate our athletes."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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