Jessica Ennis became the latest gold medallist to return to Yorkshire after helping Team GB to third in the medal table, and her home city turned out in force to honour the achievement.
Up to 20,000 people, many of whom had dressed in gold as suggested by local officials, roared their appreciation and waved Union Flags as they crowded into Barker’s Pool to catch a glimpse of the city’s golden girl.
The 26-year-old heptathlete was Britain’s Olympic heroine when she clinched gold on August 4, but she told the Yorkshire Post she was relieved to be back on home ground.
Speaking after the huge celebration, she said: “It’s so nice and such a great feeling to be here and know that I have achieved what I wanted to achieve. Now I can come back to my home city and relax and celebrate.”
Ennis said she was now busy planning her wedding to her fiance Andy Hill, whom she met while at King Ecgbert’s School in the city.
She added: “I’ve done quite a bit of planning but I’ve still got quite a bit to do. Now this massive weight has been lifted off me I can start to concentrate on some of those fun things.”
Crowds had begun to build in the city centre from mid-afternoon and when Ennis arrived at 6.30pm, the roar from her fans was deafening and she was clearly overwhelmed.
Speaking from a stage outside Sheffield City Hall she told them: “This is definitely going to be one of the greatest moments of my life. This is my home and the place that I love.”
The Olympic star said she had not yet had chance to see the post box painted gold in her honour and had yet to watch her performances in the Olympic stadium in full.
Sheffield council leader Julie Dore said Ennis would be given the freedom of the city later in the year, while other honours are being considered.
It is understood one of the ideas is to name the city’s Don Valley Stadium after Ennis, because it is where she first started athletics and where she still trains. She said she would be delighted.
Ennis had already been given a plaque in Sheffield’s “walk of fame” on the pavement outside the Town Hall, but yesterday a new gold plaque was presented to her, which will replace the old one in a few days.
Coun Dore said: “You have truly helped to change this great city of ours from a city of steel to a city of gold. Sheffield is your home and we know you are so proud of the city – maybe as much as we are of you.”
Ennis told the crowd: “Thank you so much to every single one of you here. If I could thank you all individually, I would. There are so many of you.
“You’ve been incredible – not just these past few weeks, but the past few years. You’ve always been there to support me. I can’t thank you enough.”
She added: “I didn’t expect people to come out in such great style – it was such a great feeling.”
Ennis said she hoped her efforts would inspire Sheffield’s youngsters to take up athletics.
She also supported the idea of a national museum to mark London 2012, and added: “These Olympics have been more than anyone could have imagined and it would be so nice when we are old and wrinkly to be able to go back and look at what we achieved.”
City artist Pete McKee also gave Ennis an original artwork, while Sheffield-based florist Tracey Campbell and local baker Victoria Watkin Jones presented her with a gold-themed bouquet and a white and gold cake.
A private reception for Jessica and her family took place after the celebration in city hall.