Thousands turn out as athletes thank the fans who 'made the Games'

 

The streets of London were packed today as hundreds of thousands of well-wishers turned out to cheer Britain's sporting heroes in a last hurrah as the “golden summer of British sport” came to a close.

Olympics and Paralympics stars including Jessica Ennis, Sir Chris Hoy, Ellie Simmonds and Jonnie Peacock proudly wore their medals as they waved to fans from open-top floats which wound their way through streets full of fans.

Around 800 athletes took part in The Greatest Team Parade which passed crowds, dozens deep in places, who became a sea of red, white and blue as they waved Union flags.

Despite the Paralympics coming to a close with a rousing ceremony last night, the celebrations continued today with a carnival-like atmosphere in the city. Pavements were thronged with thousands of people, while others leaned out of windows and from balconies to cheer the sportsmen and women.

Athletes and spectators were also treated to a spectacular flypast which roared over their heads.

RAF aircraft were led by the British Airways jet used to bring the Olympic Flame to the UK at the start of the Games. The flame-coloured Firefly A319 displayed a "thank you" message on its underbelly before the Red Arrows followed, leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke in their wake.

The procession, made up of 21 floats grouped in alphabetical order by their sport, started off from Mansion House in the City and made its way through central London, ending up at the Queen Victoria Memorial on The Mall.

The stars of the Olympics' Super Saturday, Mo Farah who won gold in both the 5,000m and 10,000m, heptathlon gold medallist Ennis and long jump champion Greg Rutherford, were in the first three floats with Team GB's cycling stars including Hoy, Jason Kenny, Laura Trott and Victoria Pendleton on another.

Speaking from his float, Britain's most successful Olympic sailor, four-times gold medallist Ben Ainslie said: "It's nuts, I've never seen anything like it. I'm proud to be a part of it. The whole nation has done a fantastic job with the Olympic Games and we should be very proud.

"I'm blown away by the amount of support. We've seen it all the way through the Olympics and it's made a huge difference. I'm sure that's why we had our best Olympics ever."

Wheelchair racer David Weir said his haul of four gold medals has not sunk in yet, describing the support he has received from fans as "unbelievable".

He told BBC News: "It's just been an unbelievable 11 days of competition."

Triathlon gold medallist Alistair Brownlee said: "It's amazing that so many people were interested. The best thing for us is to see other people inspired, walking down the street and meeting people who say they want to try triathlon or give running a try."

His brother Jonny, who scooped bronze in the same event, said: "It's absolutely incredible today. To see this many people out here is pretty incredible."

The parade, which included more than 90% of Britain's medal winners, also involved many of the volunteers and Games Makers who walked in between the floats.

Zara Phillips, who won a silver medal in the team eventing, waved to fans from a float carrying the equestrian teams.

She told BBC News: "Unbelievable, to think that everyone's come out for all of us. This is like the whole Games though, you know. That's what made it. The crowd were unbelievable and we are so grateful to them."

Paralympic dressage star Lee Pearson told the channel: "What an amazing Paralympic Games, amazing.

"I am so proud of the British public to come out and watch Paralympic sport and embrace it and get educated about it.

"It's an honour to be an athlete in these Games, it really has been."

Simmonds described the reception they received as "amazing".

But athletes humbly insisted the procession was also there to recognise spectators for their support during the Games.

Before the parade set off, Sir Chris told BBC News: "This isn't really for us. This is for them because they've made the Games. They've made the atmosphere, they've supported the athletes, not just in the venues but through the streets and the pubs, the public venues. It's been incredible.

"So it's our chance to give them a wave and a thank you for all the support they've given us."

Anna Watkins, who won gold in the Olympic double sculls rowing, said: "Seeing smiling faces just wanting to have a look at a medal and have a look at the team going past, it's lovely to be able to actually see the public. Now we can thank them as well, which is lovely for us to be able to do."

As the procession came to an end, Prime Minister David Cameron told the crowd on The Mall: "This is the great British summer that will be remembered in hundreds of years to come.

"You showed us the best face of Britain, who we really are, one United Kingdom, one flag, one celebration. And you showed us all that we can be. All-welcoming, tolerant, vibrant, with a future every bit as exciting and thrilling as our past.

"On behalf of the whole nation, thank you. Thank you to the athletes, to Team GB, to ParalympicsGB. You have given us a golden summer of British sport and you have made us all so proud.

"You have given us memories that we will never forget. The whole country salutes your brilliance."

PA

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