2012 Olympic heroes hailed at Buckingham Palace event


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The Independent Online

David Cameron hailed Great Britain's “incredible summer” of sport as the Queen hosted a glittering Buckingham Palace for Olympic and Paralympic heroes.

Star sportsmen and women who won gold for the nation during the summer's extravaganza of sport were invited to the palace to mark their achievements.

The Prime Minister joined the athletes and senior figures like Lord Coe who helped make the Games a success at the palace, where the Queen celebrated their efforts with the Duke of Edinburgh, Duchess of Cambridge and other members of the Royal Family.

Mr Cameron said last night: "I think people will look back and just think, 'what an incredible summer' - success after success, medal after medal and the whole country putting on its very best face for the world.

"What matters now is that we maximise the momentum and the legacy following the Olympics and Paralympics.

"We had a cabinet meeting about that today and Seb Coe was there, and we were talking about the physical legacy of east London, the important economic benefits we want, there's the sporting legacy carried through to Rio and school sport, there's also the legacy in terms of attitude to disabilities, which I think is a real chance of a step change in our country."

Team GB began the summer's medal rush by winning 65 in total, including 29 golds, an achievement that was hailed as the athletes' "greatest ever" performance by Andy Hunt, their chef de mission for London 2012.

Amongst the sports stars who delighted the home crowds and the world with podium-topping performances were heptathlete Jessica Ennis, cyclist Sir Chris Hoy and sailor Ben Ainslie and double gold-winning runner Mo Farah.

The Paralympics saw Great Britain achieve unprecedented success with 120 medals, including 34 golds.

Memorable performances included wheelchair athlete David Weir winning four golds, swimmer Ellie Simmonds powering home to two victories in the pool while sprinter Jonnie Peacock lit up the stadium with his blistering win in the T44 100 metres.

Sarah Storey cemented her place in the history books by winning four golds on her bike, taking her to 11 titles overall in a Paralympic career as both a swimmer and cyclist.

She described the evening as "just incredible", adding: "It is just such an honour and we are all very privileged to be part of such an amazing team. To have the Queen throw a reception in our honour makes everything that has happened even more amazing.

"The British public has been so supportive over the Paralympics and it has captured everybody's imagination."

A number of household names like Hoy, Farah and Ennis were missing due to other commitments but one well-known face was available Zara Phillips, who won a team silver in the Olympic Equestrian competition.

Guests sipped champagne, wine and apple juice but towards the end of the evening many politely declined a drink as they have already begun training in earnest.

A line-up of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who have all won three or more golds met the royal party, who included the Duke of York and daughter Princess Beatrice, the Princess Royal, President of the British Olympic Association, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.

They included three-time Olympic cycling champion Jason Kenny, who won two golds at London 2012, swimmer Ellie Simmonds, who now has a total of four Paralympic titles, plus cyclist Sarah Storey and wheelchair racer David Weir, who each won four golds.

Proudly wearing her three golds from London 2012, Para-equestrian rider Sophie Christiansen, who is now a five-time Paralympic champion, said she was very excited to see the Queen.

Christiansen said: "She asked me whether I enjoyed the Games, which obviously were phenomenal.

"I just want to do it all again because now I know what it takes to win three gold medals.

"Perhaps I could ask the Queen if she will lend me a horse (for the Rio 2016 Paralympics).

"My current horse is called Rio and he is still in training, but he is 15 now. He would be too old for the next Games."

Para-equestrian rider Lee Pearson, who won his tenth Paralympic gold medal at the Games along with a silver and bronze, met Kate who picked up his gold medal, won in the mixed team championship.

The Duchess revealed she has developed a passion for horses and is learning to ride.

The horseman joked: "Kate said she's learning to ride so I offered to give her some lessons.

"She held my medals and said how heavy they were, and asked if me if I'd been riding all my life."

The Duchess moved on to meet Team GB's women's hockey players, who became a firm favourite of the royal.

Kate was a keen hockey player as a student and she enjoyed watched the national team win their Bronze medal in a game against New Zealand.

The royal stood among the group of 12 women and the party looked like old friends as they chatted away together.

Emily Maguire, from Glasgow, said afterwards: "The Duchess just said how much she enjoyed watching our games. She's lovely, she's just so easy to talk to and because she herself played hockey she has a real connection to the sport."