Parade of Olympic Heroes in Melbourne
Victoria welcomes home its Olympic athletes
Wednesday 8th September 2004
Melbourne welcomed home the Victorian athletes who had represented Australia at the Olympic Games in Athens this lunchtime. With a parade though the streets of the Central Business District, then a welcome by civil dignitaries at the City's Federation Square, the athletes were cheered every inch of the way by crowds of people who lined the streets. An official estimate put the number of attendees at 10,000 people.
The 47 Victorian athletes were introduced to the crowd one-by-one and then shook hands with the State's Premier, the Minister for Sport, Recreation and the (2006) Commonwealth Games and the City Mayor, plus the Victorian Governor General, John Landy (who also swore the athletes oath at the 1956 "Friendly Games" in Melbourne).
It was an opportunity to remind Australia of the State Capital's reputation as the Sports Capital of Australia and to look forward to the future with the 2006 Commonwealth Games just over the horizon. Athlete's families, support teams and coaches were also remembered for thanks during the speeches. It was also pointed out that of 4,000 Australian volunteers who took time off work and travelled to work for the Athens Games, a massive 1,800 were from Victoria.
The athletes roll of honour was in alphabetical order, which meant that first cyclist on the stage was Shane Kelly. Soon after, he was followed by a surprise guest, athlete number 48, the "Rockhampton Rocket", Anna Meares (who is from Queensland, but was made an honorary Victorian for the day). Next onto the stage was diving medallist Chantelle Newbury - which meant there was something wrong! Already spotted walking along the parade route and then waiting for her name to be called was a decidedly more concerned-looking Kate Mactier - her name had been missed, or misspelled. However, the error was soon realised and she was summoned to the stage in the middle of the "T"'s.
Mactier, resplendent in the yellow short sleeved T-shirt of the opening ceremony uniform explained that the black doodles upon it were various autographs from her Australian team-mates.
Taking questions from the fans, some of whom who had been queuing for their spot on Federation Square since 6am, the athletes were shown nothing but admiration and support. Although one young fan in the crowd raised a smile on the lips of the tall, bald swimmer, Michael Klim when he asked what event Klim did in the Games!
When asked about the success of the cycling team in general, Mactier pointed out the huge amount of work which had been done by all the Cyclones in the build-up to the Games, Looking forward to future events, she promised there would be "lots more success in the years to come". Commenting upon her Olympic experience, she reflected upon how "incredible" it had been to be surrounded by all of the team - including those from other sports and that after her event, it had been "a wonderful time to sit back, chill out and enjoy before we all resume training hard again".
Whilst Mactier was being interviewed on the stage for a live TV audience, Anna Meares was quietly making her way up the last 50 metres of the barriered walkway of the parade route from the stage towards the reception being held for the athletes. She took the time to sign autographs for the crowd, who at this point were predominantly schoolchildren. Whilst she was doing so, Womens Cycling.net managed to chat briefly to her.
Anna Meares told WomensCycling.net that she has only been home for 2 days since stepping off the specially chartered Qantas 747 from Athens to Sydney a week ago. When she did get back to Queensland, it took her 2 hours to get through the airport due to the welcome she received there. Anna has not yet seen sister and fellow Australian team member, Kerrie, but will be meeting up with her next week. When asked why she had joined the parade of athletes in Victoria, she responded that she is in the area for some functions anyway and so thought "why not" - the greeting from the crowd when she was introduced showed that they agreed and were pleased to see her here.
There is a tickertape parade for the complete Olympic team in Sydney next week, on Wednesday 15th. It will mark the end of the celebrations for this, the most successful Australian Olympics team ever.
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