Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Olympics: Golden flight touches down to hero's welcome

L-R: Hamish Bond and Eric Murray greet fans at Auckland International Airport. The second wave of the Olympic winners to arrive at Auckland International Airport this morning. Photo / Steven McNicholl
L-R: Hamish Bond and Eric Murray greet fans at Auckland International Airport. The second wave of the Olympic winners to arrive at Auckland International Airport this morning. Photo / Steven McNicholl

New Zealand's "golden flight" from London touched down in Auckland this morning, with hundreds of people gathering to give their favourite rowers and sailors a heroes' welcome.

Gold medallist sailors Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie were given the honour of leading out the team, who arrived on SQ285 from London via Singapore and into a raucous welcome from a crowd which had waited nearly an hour after the plane landed.

The pair said they were "pushed" out of the gates by their teammates - "girls first" was the message, said Powrie - and they walked into a welcome which overwhelmed even hardened competitors like Mahe Drysdale, who won a popular gold in the single sculls event.

"It's overwhelming really. I was expecting a bit of a welcome but not as big as this," Drysdale said.

The rowers, who enjoyed plenty of success on Lake Dorney, had followed the sailors into the arrivals hall, with the women's hockey team, who were fourth in a tournament high on quality, slipping discretely away from the limelight.

Alongside Drysdale were gold medallist pair Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, double sculls winners Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan and women's coxless pair Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown, who won bronze.

Men's 49er sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who won silver, also emerged, blinking, into the glare.

Murray was a popular figure. Sweat dripped from his brow due to the heat from the television camera lights - the networks scrambled to give live crosses from the arrivals hall - but he remained his laidback self and hoisted his young son into his arms.

Drysdale, who rowed to golden glory after the disappointment of a bronze in Beijing in 2008, was also highly sought after.

"It's unbelievable but also awesome to know that you've got the support of so many people," he said of the welcome. "It makes what we do all worthwhile and so much sweeter to win a gold medal for your country."

Following his emotional win at Eton Dorney - illness hampered him four years ago - Drysdale said the extreme nerves he felt before the event could force him to reconsider his future in the sport.

Today, however, he left the door open for another tilt at the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. "I'll make those decisions in the next few months. I still love what I do so there's a good chance I'll be back. I think I'll have a bit of time out and let my body recover a bit and will see how I go from there."

Murray's teammate Bond said: "We had some idea that there would be a degree of support here but you never really know until you see it. It's great - shouldn't everyone be at school?"

He added: "Rowing finishes in the first week so we got the chance to go out and support the rest of the NZ team in the second week. I've been to a few events, I saw Lisa [Carrington] win on Saturday, I probably get more emotional watching other people win than myself personally.

"The whole team, I know the rowing team has anyway, has been looking forward to coming home."

Golden kayaker Carrington was not present on the flight. Val Adams, awarded a belated gold in the shot put, is in Switzerland and is expected home late next month.

Some of the cyclists arrived on an earlier flight, including Simon van Velthooven, who won bronze in the keirin, BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker and the men's pursuit team, who won bronze.

Van Velthooven, proudly displaying his bronze before putting it back into his jeans pocket, waited for the later flight and the rest of his Olympic teammates.

New Zealand won 13 medals in London - six gold, two silver and five bronze.

- APNZ

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