Around 250,000 people are expected to line the streets of central London at lunchtime today for a parade to honour Britain's Olympic medal winners.
At the Parade of Heroes, the Olympic athletes, including the 37 medal winners, will travel in open-top buses to Trafalgar Square before attending a reception with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. The Government gave its approval to the parade after Team GB won 30 medals at the Athens Games, including nine golds, and came 10th in the global medal table. The parade is also intended to lift awareness of the London bid to host the Games in 2012. Interested cities must submit their technical plans to the International Olympic Committee in one month. A similar parade last December for the England rugby team after winning the World Cupdrew a million people.
The first of a new fleet of 100 taxis with slogans urging people to "Back the Bid" will lead the procession of five buses. A 20-metre banner saying "Make Britain Proud" will be signed by Olympians including the boxer Amir Khan and the middle-distance runner Kelly Holmes before it begins a nationwide tour to gather more signatures.
Organisers of the event have defended its timing, seven weeks after the end of the Games, citing the need to include winners from the Paralympics and the practical difficulties of co-ordinating the diaries of professionals from so many sports.
A spokesman for the British Olympic Association (BOA) said: "This is not like with the rugby boys who belong to one team. When Sir Clive Woodward [the former England coach] wanted a parade he seemed to click his fingers and it happened."
The event was almost overshadowed by a row between sponsors, which was settled last week. The BOA fought a successful campaign for athletes to wear their Team GB kits sponsored by Adidas. Objections were raised by Nike and Reebok, which sponsor Holmes and Mark-Lewis Francis and pointed out that the Adidas deal ended a week after Athens.
LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN...
GAIL EMMS, 27 Silver medallist in the badminton mixed doubles with Nathan Robertson
I think Nathan and I have learnt there is a balance between doing all the promotional work and coping with the publicity while still concentrating on your game.
This month we reached the final of the Danish Open but we were beaten and perhaps this had a little bit to do with being distracted by the hype after Athens which left us with only a week and a half to train. We were shocked by the criticism from our coach afterwards, considering the excitement the Olympics caused.
The public's reaction to us when we got back from Athens was amazing. We had a sack-load of letters and e-mail requests asking us to speak at schools, charity dinners, meet sponsors and do television.
LEON TAYLOR, 26, Silver medallist in the synchronised 10m dive with Peter Waterfield
It's been five weeks of total debauchery but now I am feeling totally out of shape and crap. I intend to get to Beijing for what would be my fourth Games.
When we arrived back in Gatwick it was special. After that I was paraded as a hero on an open-top bus in my home town of Cheltenham. There were two camera crews there as well and I felt a bit uncomfortable with just me in my tracksuit; I didn't know how to act. I've hardly stopped since. I've been to many schools in Cheltenham and Sheffield where I train and live. When you put an Olympic medal round a boy's or girl's neck their faces light up. My aim is to do motivational speaking like Sally Gunnell and Roger Black.
AMIR KHAN, 17, Silver medalist in the 60kg boxing category
Even before I won the medal there was a lot of attention coming my way but if anything it has increased. My agent handles the requests which come in from all over the world.
When I got back from Athens I was eight assignments behind at college [Bolton College where he studies sports development]. I'm also trying to pass my driving test. I've been made the Best Young Boxer by the Boxing Writers' Club and was chosen as Best Amateur Sportsman of the Year by Eurosport. I also want to help get the Olympics for London in 2012 and signed up as an ambassador for the bid. Most of my commitments have been in London so I've had to be on the road three or four times a week.
BRADLEY WIGGINS, Gold, silver and bronze cycling medallist
After winning my last medal in Athens I had to come straight home because I was racing in Belgium. The victory party for me was the Tour of Britain where I got an amazing reception. On the final stage in London there were thousands of people packed into Whitehall which was a huge buzz for me.
Since then I have been drinking beer and putting weight on. I'm getting married in the next few weeks and my fiancée is expecting our child in April. Winning an Olympic medal would give anyone financial security for life, not in terms of earning millions but because of the chances of getting a job. Having an Olympic medal on your CV says you can apply yourself and you've got dedication.
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