...while Britain's Olympians slip quietly back into Blighty

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The Independent Online
While one sportsman was drawing a crowd of almost 20,000 to St James' Park in Newcastle, the homecoming of the British Olympic team caused rather less of a stir.

Holidaymakers at Gatwick Airport formed an unofficial reception committee for the first arrivals, silver medallists Roger Black and Steve Backley. There were few relatives and friends to meet the athletes, and the only welcoming poster was one put up by Delta Airlines which said: "Welcome Home to the British Olympic team".

There were cheers at Gatwick for the arrival of half of Britain's only gold medal success, Matthew Pinsent, who won rowing's coxless pairs with Steven Redgrave, but the loudest applause was reserved for Britain's silver medallist yachtsmen. Friends, relatives and members of the South Coast's yachting fraternity draped waved huge Union Jacks for John Merricks, Ian Walker and Ben Ainslie.

In contrast, hundreds of people and a red carpet marked the return to a rainswept Dublin of an Irish Olympic squad that rewrote their country's sporting history. Mary Robinson, the Irish President, was the first to greet the athletes. Michelle Smith, who won three swimming gold medals and one bronze, said: "I can't believe how many people are here this morning, particularly in view of the weather. It's just wonderful."

President Robinson walked along the sodden red carpet on the tarmac under umbrellas to greet Smith. "We are all so proud of you and the way you conducted yourself inside and outside the swimming pool," the President said.

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