London 2012: Moment to remember for athletes and crowds

Image caption Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the parade route to cheer the 2012 athletes

"This is the moment we'll remember every day for the rest of our lives," sang Pet Shop Boys.

Their dramatic stage was the Queen Victoria Memorial, in front of Buckingham Palace, right at the heart of the Olympics and Paralympics host city.

Its steps were filled with athletes from Team and Paralympics GB; above them on the monument's top stood a golden winged victory figure.

The act's performance came at the pinnacle of a love-in between crowds and athletes that started two hours earlier.

It stretched from Mansion House in the City, past St Paul's, along Fleet Street and the Strand to Trafalgar Square and under Admiralty Arch up to the Queen's London residence.

Twenty-one floats of athletes travelled through streets which they described as "unbelievably packed" with people.

'Like a football star'

First came the police outriders, then police horses, carnival costume lions, then drummers, to herald their arrival. Across the city you could hear the sharp roar of a crowd not yet done with cheering.

Image caption Athletes said they had not expected such a huge reception at the parade

"Amazing" is a word perhaps overused by pundits, punters and competitors at Games like the Olympics and Paralympics. Maybe it should be saved for days like this, when people in the crowd declared the place "Utopia" as they turned out to thank their heroes.

On one of the cyclists' floats, Britain's most successful Olympian Sir Chris Hoy, who won his sixth gold medal at London 2012, said he just had to "turn around, hold up the medals and you'd get a huge wayyhayyy from the crowd" - such was their willingness to support the team.

Four time London Paralympic gold-medal winning David Weir felt "like a football star". Quite a tribute from the sport that during the last two months has gripped the nation, to the one that forms its obsession every week during the season.

Many athletes described the parade as feeling unreal after the intensity of the Games.

"Jessica Ennis says her mum says I'm her favourite athlete after her," said Weir. "That's surreal". Hoy admitted times like these were so powerful they left him emotionally drained.

And physically. Swimmer Ellie Simmonds had taken off her four medals. They were some of the heaviest ever made and the largest, whoppers. The price of success is that they make her neck ache if worn all at once.

The atmosphere was happy, but more muted at the top of the Mall where the final speeches and thank-yous of these Games took place.

Transport and security fears mostly were not realised during 2012, but parade organisers took no chances. The volunteer Games Makers lined the Mall and a mixture of armed forces and emergency services personnel, and GB support staff, stood in front of the Palace.

The forces can step in to fill a gap in security guards or make up a crowd, but they can't quite recreate the feeling when the public flooded the area for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations earlier in this spectacular summer.

'Big smile moment'

But there were magic moments - as athletes spotted the coaches and family who had help push them to their place on that float.

Olympic triathlon gold and bronze medallists Alistair and Jonny Brownlee pinpointed their strength and conditioning man Ian Pryor in the crowd, their smiles as wide as they were that August Tuesday on the Hyde Park podium.

"They work so hard all the time," said Pryor, waving up at them. "It's just such a big smile moment for us because you see them on their up and down days. It's great to see now the fruits of their labour."

Image caption British Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds described the crowd as "amazing"

Prime Minister David Cameron praised the athletes for delivering a "golden summer". One of Britain's most successful Paralympians, Sarah Storey, with 11 Paralympic medals and 22 overall, paid tribute to the crowd and urged the next generation to "dream big and work hard".

It was up to London Mayor Boris Johnson to bring the house down. He turned around to the athletes to tell them there were "a lot of you" and said they "routed the doubters, scattered the gloomsters" and for the first time in living memory caused people to talk to each other on the Tube.

After the flypasts, including by Firefly, the passenger plane that brought the Olympic flame to the UK from Greece and started it all back in May, and the national anthem, it was left to the athletes to ponder 'what next?'.

The Brownlee brothers were perched on the railings outside Buckingham Palace batting around their "most ridiculous" post-Games work offers so far.

"Dancing on Ice," laughed Jonny. "I can't skate and I can't dance. So no!"


Image caption The parade's grand finale took place outside Buckingham Palace

Many athletes were looking forward to or enjoying the return to training and competition. Life back to normal, a working solution to the Tuesday Blues that will come after this last hurrah.

Hoy said he was back in light training on the velodrome track, ready for the "will-he-can-he-compete?" ahead of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

And how will the public who have cheered them all up to this wire cope?

A figure in a Team GB cap and Union Flag poncho walked slowly up the incline in Green Park, away from the barriers being stacked and stages dismantled on the Mall.

"It's been fantastic," said Paralympics fan Terry Arnold.

"But we'll have our pictures and our memories, and we just won't forget it."

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