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New Zealand Olympians Receive Heroes' Homecoming
    2008-08-27 08:51:35     Xinhua
The New Zealand Olympic team returned home Wednesday, receiving a rapturous welcome at Auckland International Airport.

The team won nine medals at the Beijing Games, including three golds, one silver and five bronze medals, which are the country's best haul since 10 were won in Barcelona in 1992.

The team was greeted on the airport tarmac by a haka group and Prime Minister Helen Clark before heading through to the arrivals area.

More than 1000 supporters, including several school groups, were holding flags and waving banners as they waited for the Olympians.

The team was greeted with cheers and many autograph-hunting children when they walked into the arrivals.

Team chef de mission Dave Currie said it was the biggest and best welcome home a New Zealand team has ever received.

He said more than 7,000 messages of support were received during the Beijing Games, and the athletes have been looking forward to returning home.

New Zealand Sport and Recreation Minister Clayton Cosgrove joined the rest of the country in welcoming home the New Zealand Olympic team after its highly successful Beijing campaign.

"I am sure I speak for all New Zealanders when I say that we are fiercely proud of our Olympic team," he said."Our Olympians can hold their heads high having provided the best overall result in 20 years by bringing home three golds, one silver and five bronze medals."

All the medalist were present apart from 1500m bronze medal winner Nick Willis.

Shot putter Valerie Vili and rowers Georgina and Caroline Evers- Swindell were the first to emerge in the arrival hall Wednesday morning to thunderous applause from the waiting crowd.

Their gold medals were proudly on display as the athletes made their way slowly through the throng of about 400 well-wishers.

Vili had to push through to meet her sister and family.

"I am very happy, very proud, I have done a country of four million people, done my family proud, my parents," Vili said.

She said she would spend six days at home before she heads off to Europe next week for further competition.

Most atheletes looked exhausted after the 13 hour flight. Rower Mahe Drysdale also drew the biggest crowds.

Also popular was BMX cyclist Sarah Walker, for whom supporters had trekked from Kawarau and Whakatane. Walker was paid a special tribute at the airport as people from Whakatane High School performed a haka for her.

The homecoming celebrations were set to continue as the athletes made their way to their home towns.

Vili will be welcomed back after her gold medal-winning performance by her old school, Macleans College in Bucklands Beach.

Rowers Drysdale, George Bridgewater and Nathan Twaddle were expected to be treated to a welcome-home parade in Cambridge on Friday.

Gold medal-winning boardsailor Tom Ashley will enjoy his own welcoming ceremony at Devonport Reserve Thursday. And Kawerau will hold a parade on Sept. 13 for BMX rider Walker.

The Hawke's Bay region is set to welcome home its Olympic gold medal winning residents Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell with open arms, a red carpet and a permanent marker to their Olympic achievement.

Napier and Hastings are going to turn it on for the twins Saturday, in recognition of their back-back double sculls rowing successes.

The Hastings parade will end with a civic reception hosted by Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, who said a bronze statue, a korowai (cloak), as well as naming a street or a park after the Evers-Swindells had been considered to showcase their efforts.
 
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