Emotional homecoming for Olympians
Home at last ... the plane carrying Australia's Olympians pulls into a hanger at Sydney Airport. Photo: Glenda Kwek
Family and friends cheered and clapped and a children's choir sang I Still Call Australia Home as the athletes - some wearing their medals around their necks - walked down a set of stairs from a Qantas "boxing kangaroo" plane just after 7.30am.
They were greeted at the plane's entrance by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.
About 500 family members and friends gathered at a Sydney hanger to welcome Australia's Olympics athletes back from London.
Homecoming ... Tony Abbott being interviewed by Channel Nine. Photo: Glenda Kwek
The athletes' supporters were joined by a large media contingent and federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who was interviewed by one of the broadcasters.
Suzanne Smith, the mother of Tate Smith, one of the K4 1000m rowing gold medallists, spoke of her delight of her son's success at the Games.
Ms Smith, who was at the hanger with Tate Smith's young cousins Kye and Ryan, returned from London yesterday and said she was only able to watch her son's race in full last night.
"All I did was just cry," she said about what she did when she saw her son win.
Tom and Maryann Walsh, the uncle and aunt of 21-year-old water polo player Aidan Roach, said they were very proud of his achievements in his first Olympics outing.
"He's always aimed to represent Australia ... since Sydney," Mrs Walsh said.
"He spent two seasons in Serbia to get world-class experience. He dedicated all his time to training and lived in simple conditions.
"I think there will be a rest in store for him now."
Mr Walsh said that if his nephew competed in Rio, "in four years it'll be my ambition to watch him play".
Prue Brigden-Jones travelled to London with her family to watch her sister Joanne race in the K4 500m kayak event and described the atmosphere as unbelievable.
"I kept getting goosebumps as I watched her race. We are not used to seeing so many people watching kayaking," Ms Bridgen-Jones said.
"I've always loved the Olympics but having a sister in it is really cool. She loved the experience."
Silva, who came to the hangar to welcome home her son's partner, Brooke Pratley, spoke of how she was inspired by the athletes' dedication to their sport.
Pratley and Kim Crow won silver in the Women's Doubles Sculls.
"I'm proud of all the Olympians because of the amount of training and dedication they put in. They wouldn't have been there otherwise," Silva, who did not give her last name, said.
"And it's not just the dedication of the athlete but also the entire family and everyone around supporting them constantly."
Ms Gillard was also present at the hanger and spoke to various family members and friends as a large group of people gathered around her.