Thousands of sports fans braved heavy showers in Manchester at the GB Heroes parade yesterday to toast the nation’s record medal hauls.
A host of the region’s champions from Rio were met with cheers from supporters, including Leeds triathlete brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee and the city’s Paralympic gold medalist Kadeena Cox.
Prime Minister Theresa May also joined the celebrations as she personally thanked members of Team GB and ParalympicsGB for making the country a sporting “superpower” and “inspiring generations” to follow in their footsteps.
The event in Manchester was the first of back-to-back “heroes’ parades” to toast Great Britain’s phenomenal success in Rio, with the second celebration being held in London on Tuesday.
It featured an hour-long city centre parade of floats and saw several hundred of Britain’s sporting heroes and an adoring public – an estimated 200,000 – come together to revel in the summer of success.
The athletes then took to the stage in Albert Square to a rousing reception with musical entertainment provided by Rebecca Ferguson and Leeds band The Kaiser Chiefs, while the action was relayed on big screens elsewhere in the city centre.
Both British squads finished second in their respective medal tables at this summer’s Games after spectacular performances.
Later, at a reception at the city’s Town Hall, Mrs May told the athletes – including triathlete brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee and Paralympian swimming gold medallists Ellie Simmonds and Ellie Robinson – that she wanted to see a similar parade in four years time after Tokyo 2020.
After posing for several ‘selfies’ with Olympians and Paralympians, the Prime Minister told an invited audience: “Time after time the nation came to a halt as you wrote your names into the history books.
“Armies of armchair fans stayed up late to follow your progress every night – watching in awe and filled with pride.
“So it is absolutely right that we should take this moment as a nation to say an enormous and heartfelt thank you.
“And it is right too that we should gather here in Manchester, where so many medals were made.
“We don’t always get to see the dedication and effort put in behind the scenes. But those cold, dark mornings, those intense training sessions, the years of sacrifice and the unwavering commitment to your passion and your profession is an inspiration to us all.”
She said that Monday’s celebration was also a thank you to the athletes’ support staff, together with their friends and families, for the sacrifices they had shared.
The Prime Minister added: “This summer you didn’t just make history, you helped to shape our future too. Today in school playgrounds, parks and sports centres across the country, children are dreaming of emulating your success.”
Team GB collected 27 golds among their medal total of 67 – two more than from London 2012 – for their best haul from an overseas Olympics.
The ParalympicsGB squad, meanwhile, returned from South America with 147 medals, including 64 golds.
Tim Reddish, chairman of the British Paralympic Association, said the recent four-year Paralympic and Olympic cycle had been “something special” but it had happened by design rather than chance.