Heathrow Airport offers 'near perfect' departure experience for Olympic Games athletes
A journey through Heathrow airport - not always a happy experience - was made near perfect for thousands of departing Olympic athletes today.
And the athletes responded to the special arrangements at the west London airport by praising the London Games and the welcome they received.
With their medals hanging around their necks, the athletes checked in at a special Games terminal made up to resemble a London park.
At one end there was a mock-up London double-decker red bus.
There were plants, park benches and trees, including a tree on which athletes were invited to hang a message describing their best moment of the Games.
Admiring the elaborate make-up of the make-shift terminal today, gold medal winner Chris Brown, of the Bahamas, said: "I have been tremendously well looked after here in London."
Brown, 33, who ran the first leg as the Bahamas won the men's 4x400 metres relay, had been competing in his fourth Olympics, having picked up silver in Beijing in 2008 and bronze at Sydney in 2000.
Proudly showing off his gold medal, he said: "These Games in London have been great. London has staged a fantastic Olympics.
"Everything has worked out well today and this special terminal is a bit of fun."
Kate Reisinger, the manager of the US women's hockey team, had less success than Brown but enjoyed London just as much.
Her team came 12th and last in the hockey, but Ms Reisinger, flying home to Colorado Springs in Colorado today, concentrated on the positive.
She said: "London has been so welcoming and everything has been so well organised. I have seen some of the tourist attractions in London and even found some nice, quiet places to relax in."
Two more gold medal-winners - Courtney Mathewson and Tumua Anae of the USA water polo team - checked in for a flight home to California.
Anae, 23, said: "The Games were awesome. The people were so good to us. All the volunteers were so friendly and gave us a lot of support.
"I have to say to Britain - you guys did a great job."
Mathewson, 25, said: "I loved London. Everything was perfect. I was very impressed."
Carmelina Moscato, a member of the Canadian team which took bronze in the women's football, experienced the hospitality not just of London but also of Coventry, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne during her Olympics.
Flying to Toronto, Moscato, 28, said: "We enjoyed playing at all three cities and the hotels were good.
"This has been one of the best experiences I could have wished for. It's like being in dreamland. I could not have asked for more."
Irish boxing gold medal-winner Katie Taylor was looking forward to seeing her grandmother, Kathleen Cranley.
Shortly before boarding a flight to Dublin, Taylor said: "My grandmother has just turned 80. I'm very keen to see her and the whole family again.
"The atmosphere when I fought was tremendous. It's been an incredible Games and I have been privileged to be part of it."
Messages left on the Olympic "memory tree" included one which recalled: "Huge crowds and smiles." Another said: "The secret of life is to die young ... as late as possible."
Visiting the special Games terminal, Colin Matthews, chief executive of Heathrow operator BAA, said: "We wanted to give the athletes a great farewell.
"The enthusiasm of our staff and our volunteers has been infectious. We want to build on that."
As athletes were taken from the Games terminal to the "normal" terminals they were clapped into the departure halls by airport staff who wished them a good journey home.
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