Hordes of homemade banners, joyous crowds and lashings of Olympic and Paralympic spirit greeted Tom Daley and fellow athletes as the Westcountry turned out to welcome them home.
The medal winners lapped up the euphoria surrounding the London 2012 Games as thousands of people from across the region lined the streets of Plymouth to pay tribute to the young sporting stars.
Proud supporters waved Union Flags and shouted cheers of support as a procession paraded past them.
Devon's teenage diving sensation Daley was among those joining in the open-top bus parade through the city last night, as well-wishers cheered the 18-year-old bronze medallist.
Onlookers said the spectacle was reminiscent of a pop star greeting crowds of screaming, adoring fans.
The 15-year-old swimmer Ruta Meilutyte, who won gold in the 100m women's breaststroke for her home country of Lithuania, was also among the athletes taking part in the event.
The pair waved from the balcony of Plymouth College, where Daley and Meilutyte are studying for their A-levels and GCSEs respectively, before boarding the bus as it made its hour-long route through the city streets.
Others in the parade included divers Tonia Couch and Sarah Barrow, swimmers Antony James, all from Plymouth, Jamila Lunkuse and Jade Howard, fencer Corinna Lawrence, also from Plymouth, Exeter's wheelchair basketball player Judith Hamer and Paralympic table tennis player David Wetherill.
The atmosphere was electric as the bus made its way from Plymouth College and headed towards the city centre via Peverell Park Road, Outland Road, the Plymouth Life Centre, Alma Road, Pennycomequick Roundabout, North Cross Roundabout, Coburg Street, Charles Street, and Charles Cross Roundabout.
As the bus arrived at Royal Parade in the city centre, the crowd went wild as they showed their support for some of the best sporting talent in the country.
Daley's diving coach Andy Banks and Meilutyte's swimming coach Jon Rudd also took part in the celebration, which included a stop at the new multimillion-pound Plymouth Life Centre, where many of the city's athletes train.
Each athlete was given a rousing reception as they were presented to the crowd which had gathered near the city plaza to welcome them off the bus. But the biggest cheer was reserved for Daley, wearing his TeamGB tracksuit and bronze medal.
Addressing the crowd – several members of which tried to catch his attention with shouts of "I love you, Tom" – the diver said: "Today has been crazy. The number of people who have lined the streets and the foot bridges – thank you for coming."
Daley also thanked staff at Plymouth College, where the teenager is studying for his A-levels. He said: "They have been incredible supporting us, adapting timetables, making sure we can train."
Speaking between screams from younger members of the audience, Daley added: "I would just like to say thank you from all of us."
The athletes' bus was followed for a short distance by a procession of the city's Games Makers, many of whom later attended a civic reception at Council House, hosted by the Lord Mayor, Michael Wright. Lithuanian Ambassador Dr Oskaras Jusys was also among guests at the reception.
THE CROWD: what they said
Thousands of people lined the streets of Plymouth as they gave a heroes’ welcome to our returning Olympians, Paralympians and Games Makers.Proud Plymothians waved Union Jack flags and shouted cheers of support as a procession of the city’s finest athletes, coaches and others who helped make the London 2012 Games happen paraded past them.Diving star Tom Daley, who took bronze in the 10-metre individual men’s platform event, and 15-year-old Lithuanian swimmer Ruta Meilutyte, who won gold in the 100-metre women’s breaststroke, joined fellow Olympians Tonia Couch, Sarah Barrow, Anthony James, Jamila Lunkuse, Jade Howard, Corinna Lawrence, Olivia Federici, Judith Hamer and David Wetherill on an open top bus as they took centre stage to bask in the acclaim of their home fans.Tom’s diving coach Andy Banks and Ruta’s swimming coach John Rudd also took part.The atmosphere was electric as the bus made its way from Plymouth College and headed towards the city centre via Peverell Park Road, Outland Road, the Plymouth Life Centre, Alma Road, Pennycomequick Roundabout, North Cross Roundabout, Coburg Street, Charles Street, and Charles Cross Roundabout.As the bus arrived at Royal Parade the crowd went wild and showed their support for some of the best sporting talent in the country.A blaze of camera flashes went off in every direction as people tried to capture not only their sporting legends but the once in a lifetime moment.The city’s Games Makers received rapturous applause as they met the athletes on the bus at Royal Parade before walking behind it in a procession which travelled down the Civic Centre side of Royal Parade, along Princess Way and towards Plymouth Guildhall.The event culminated in a number of the athletes taking to the stage set up outside the Guildhall, where live interviews were being played on the Big Screen on the Piazza in Armada Way.
THE ATHLETES: what they said
Plymouth's Olympic athletes said they were “completely shocked” and “overwhelmed” at the support offered by the people of Plymouth.They said it was from the screaming fans and people of all ages waving flags that they found the strength to compete on the international stage among the best in the world.“It’s just been incredible – the amount of people was just amazing,” said bronze medallist diver, Tom Daley.“My whole life, family and friends are from Plymouth so for me this was the really special parade.”“It just goes to show how Plymouth really respects all our Olympians and Paralympians – everyone has shown so much support and I want to send out a massive thank you to everyone.”Tonia Couch, synchro 10m platform diver, said words “could not describe” how she felt.“I cannot stop smiling,” she said.“It was just so lovely – we even had to be pulled away from the crowds because so many wanted our autographs.“Everyone was shouting and screaming my name which I’m not used to but it means the world to me.”She added that it made her even more determined to do well and described London’s games as “100 times” more exciting than the Beijing games.Swimmer Ruta Meilutyte, who won gold for Lithuania and studies and trains in Plymouth, said: “The people of Plymouth are just great. I view here as my second home and I thought the parade was absolutely incredible. I felt so proud and that people were supporting me no matter what my nationality. It really motivates you to do well.”Sarah Barrow, Tonia’s diving partner, said the support meant you didn’t just do your sport for yourself and country, but for Plymouth too.“This parade was on another level to anything I’d experienced. It was especially nice to see so many people from the older generation out on the streets.”Antony James, butterfly swimmer, said: “It really helps when you’re racing, knowing that everyone back at home is supporting you.”Fencer, Corinna Lawrence, said she felt “special and privileged”.“It was really special to see my old teacher in the crowds who I haven’t seen in years. This parade meant we can share our experience with everyone.”David Wetherill, a table tennis Paralympian who shot to world fame when he made a return shot in spectacular fashion, sent out a “huge” thank you to all his supporters.“I’m not used to this level of support or respect. Throughout it has been overwhelming. It’s spurred me on.”Lord Mayor, Cllr Mike Wright, said the turn out was “tremendous” and the athletes deserved it after their hard work. “Plymouth can always be relied on to turn out for its people,” he added.Simon Wormleighton, head teacher at Plymouth College, said: “We have a great opportunity here in Plymouth to make our city the very centre and driving force (if not diving force) of Britain’s aquatic sports success for many years to come.“The investment the city made in the Life Centre together with the world class training programmes we can offer and the inspiring legacy our Olympians have given us mean that we are in the best possible position to deliver this.”
'I'd love to be in films' says star diver Daley
Flashing bulbs from spectators’ cameras may have threatened to derail Tom Daley’s quest for Olympic glory, but the young diver insists he would embrace the bright lights of Hollywood should the right offer become available.The 18-year-old from Plymouth famously requested a re-dive during the final of the men’s individual 10m platform at the Olympics last month, after he was distracted by camera flashes as he performed his crucial first dive.He subsequently dived his way to the bronze medal, much to the delight of the partisan crowd inside the Aquatics Centre and his legion of fans across the country.And the media-friendly teenager – whose Twitter page is regularly peppered with photographs of him alongside A-list celebrities – insists he is ready to listen to television and film offers following his London 2012 success.Daley, who recently returned to school to complete his A-levels in maths, photography and Spanish, said: “I am using these (A-level) subjects to maybe get into university.I will be thinking about that over the next year.“I enjoy doing the media work, it is something I would enjoy going into in the future. Maybe producing or being the presenter. At the moment I am studying, but I would like to become a TV presenter or something along those lines.“Film work, I’d love to do anything like that. I would love to try anything new really, be it star in a film or playing a small part.”He said he enjoyed the London Games but had no desire to leave Plymouth for good. His long-term target is the 2016 Games in Rio.