There were a few false starts. But true to form, Britain's medallists stormed home at last

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The Independent Online

The British Olympic team's homecoming yesterday mirrored its achievements in Athens. Their flight was running late and there were several false starts - including stunned holidaymakers being met with cheers meant for the returning athletes - before the victorious team finally spilled out into the arrivals hall at Gatwick to a warm welcome.

The British Olympic team's homecoming yesterday mirrored its achievements in Athens. Their flight was running late and there were several false starts - including stunned holidaymakers being met with cheers meant for the returning athletes - before the victorious team finally spilled out into the arrivals hall at Gatwick to a warm welcome.

At the sight of the first track suit, the 500-strong crowd cheered loudly, vigorously waved their Union Jacks and hurled a few shuttlecocks at the athletes before demanding autographs. Names yelled from the crowds included the huge rower, Matthew Pinsent, and the sprinter Darren Campbell.

For a while, the diminutive figure of one young man appeared to go unnoticed. But suddenly Amir Khan was spotted. The attention switched to the 17-year-old Bolton boxer who had gone to the Games to get a bit of experience only to return home with a silver medal.

With a bemused look, Khan appeared to be trying to take in the adulation around him. "It was mad, totally mad," he said. "People were chanting my name. It was as if I had got a gold medal.''

But the loudest cheer was reserved for the golden girl of the games. Kelly Holmes was among the last of the medallists to appear. As she enveloped her mother, Pam Thomson, in a hug, the crowd exploded into a chant of, "Kelly, Kelly".

The 34-year-old said: "I nearly broke down. I had a few tears in my eyes but I was worried about my mascara." Having been closeted in the "Alcatraz" of the Olympic village, she said she had seen little of the press coverage which had greeted her double gold medals in the 800m and 1,500m. "Today I saw people holding papers. I thought, 'No way'. It was just unbelievable. I saw my face everywhere. It's a bit scary."

For a team which departed under a cloud of pessimism it was a sweet return, with 30 medals including nine gold. Pinsent, who claimed his fourth rowing gold, appeared to sum it up for the rest.

"It feels fantastic to be a British sports success story, especially in a year when British sport has been so criticised," he said. "I will be smiling for a very long time after this Olympics.

"To be honest, I could go home and find my house had burnt down and I would still be smiling." Asked whether he thought a victory parade might be in order, he laughed and said: "Bring it on."

For some, the homecoming yesterday was more about family than parades. Jason Gardener, one of the men's 4x100m relay team which unexpectedly triumphed over the Americans to claim gold, appeared oblivious to the press conference as he stared at a spot near the back of the room. The moment his duties were done, he bolted over to clutch his five-month-old daughter, Molly. Fighting back tears he said: "It's been a long time."

Many of the crowd were family. Sporting a Union Jack worn like a sarong, Olivia Dempsey, whose 24-year-old son Nick won a bronze in the windsurfing, said: "I am very, very proud. Wild horses would not have kept me away." Britain's strong performance has boosted hopes for London's bid to stage the Games in 2012. But the team behind the bid were reining in their optimism yesterday.

Mike Lee, the communications director, said: "There are still 10 months to go. The verdict from our experience in Athens is that it is a very open race. It's probably true that London, Madrid and Paris are regarded as the three strongest candidates. People assume Paris is a leader but many members of the IOC have not made their minds up. This has been a very important process for the bid and the bid team are returning from Athens with a spring in their step."

The team have to secure planning permission for the proposed Olympic park next month, then start work promoting the "look and feel" of a London games before finalising Britain's bid documents by the IOC's November deadline.

Officials are already talking to British medal winners, many of whom, such as double gold medal winner Holmes, are already ambassadors for the bid.

Full List of British medal-winners

Gold (Nine)

Leslie Law, Eventing, mixed individual

Shirley Robertson, Sarah Webb, Sarah Ayton, Sailing, women's Yngling class

Chris Hoy, Cycling, 1km time trial

Ben Ainslie, Sailing, Laser class

Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell, Ed Coode, Steve Williams, Rowing, coxless fours

Bradley Wiggins, Cycling, 4km individual pursuit

Kelly Holmes, 800m

Kelly Holmes, 1,500m

Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish, Mark Lewis-Francis, 4x100m relay

Silver (Nine)

Peter Waterfield, Leon Taylor, Synchronised 10m platform diving

Pippa Funnell, William Fox-Pitt, Leslie Law, Mary King, Jeanette Brakewell, Eventing, mixed team

Gail Emms, Nathan Robertson, Badminton, mixed doubles

Campbell Walsh, K1 kayak slalom

Katherine Grainger, Cath Bishop, Rowing, coxless pairs

Nick Rogers, Joe Glanfield, Sailing, 470 class

Alison Mowbray, Debbie Flood, Frances Houghton, Rebecca Romero, Rowing, coxless quadruple sculls

Steve Cummings, Paul Manning, Bradley Wiggins, Rob Hayles, Chris Newton, Bryan Steel, Cycling, team pursuit

Amir Khan, Lightweight boxing

Bronze (12)

Stephen Parry, Swimming, 200m butterfly

Pippa Funnell, Eventing mixed individual

Helen Reeves, K1 kayak slalom

Alison Williamson, Archery, individual 70m

Kelly Sotherton, Heptathlon

Sarah Winckless, Elise Laverick Rowing, double sculls

David Davies, Swimming, 1,500m freestyle

Nick Dempsey, Windsurfing, Mistral

Chris Draper, Simon Hiscocks Sailing, 49er class

Georgina Harland, Modern pentathlon

Bradley Wiggins, Rob Hayles Cycling, madison

Ian Wynne, K1 500m kayak

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