Sensational Team GB return home

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The Independent Online

Great Britain's triumphant Olympic team landed at Heathrow today on a British Airways plane with a special gold nose.

The athletes finished fourth at this summer's Games with 19 gold medals, 13 silver and 15 bronze in Britain's most successful Olympics for 100 years.

Olympic gold medallists including Chris Hoy, Rebecca Adlington and Nicole Cooke touched down just after 3pm before being taken to a hotel to meet the waiting press.

The countdown to London 2012 began last night when the Chinese handed over the Olympics to Britain at the end of the Beijing Games.

Britain has the daunting task of trying to match the pomp and ceremony of this year's Games which have widely been seen as a great success.

A victory parade will be held for the British athletes in London in October. Fans have been warned to stay away from the airport today.

Team GB's return follows parties attended by thousands across the UK yesterday in celebration of their sporting achievements. More celebrations are expected today.

The team returned on a plane featuring a message reading "Proud to bring our British heroes home" emblazoned on the fuselage of the aircraft, renamed Pride after the British lion mascot.

It touched down after a 10-hour journey from Beijing.

At yesterday's spectacular closing ceremony Mayor of London Boris Johnson received the Olympic flag from his Beijing counterpart.

Billions of people around the world watched the capital's special eight-minute segment which offered a preview of what sports fans can expect in 2012, while across the UK flags were raised and celebrations were held to honour the occasion.

Handover flags were hoisted at more than 700 venues around the world, including more than 400 in UK towns as part of civic ceremonies to welcome the 2012 Olympics.

Thousands of flag-waving supporters gathered outside Buckingham Palace in the Mall to watch a show including a live link-up with the closing ceremony in China.

A series of pop acts then took to the stage as well as Olympians including Bradley Wiggins, Phillips Idowu and Michael Phelps.

The London event was rounded off with a fly past by the Red Arrows and a performance by singer Heather Small of the 2012 anthem, Proud.

There was plenty to celebrate this summer after Britain's athletes rode, swam, sailed, fought and ran their way to glory.

Among the stars were cyclist Chris Hoy, the Great Britain flag bearer for the closing ceremony, who won three gold medals.

Dressed in a suit and wearing his medals around his neck, the 32-year-old from Edinburgh cycled next to a double decker London bus with fellow medallists Victoria Pendleton and Jamie Staff.

England footballer David Beckham also featured in the display, while Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and pop singer Leona Lewis belted out Whole Lotta Love.

The jumbo, complete with its distinctive gold nose cone emerged through the gloom over Heathrow shortly after 3pm.

A tiny Union Jack fixed above the cockpit, fluttered in the wind as the giant plane finally came to rest in its bay.

The athletes were greeted to cheers and applause from a small crowd of onlookers, a phalanx of media and large police security team.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, waited discreetly by the terminal building greeting each athlete individually as they made their way into the airport building.

Lord Coe was one of the first off the plane, he told the BBC: "Team GB have provided us with just the most extraordinary platform, one we could not possibly imagine before we came here.

"It's the opportunity to drive the project for us, but take nothing from any of those guys who've performed, I think, way beyond what I think any of us were expecting."