Rain fails to dampen Olympic and Paralympic heroes parade

A rainbow appears in the sky as members of the British Olympic and Paralympic teams are applauded by the general public on a stage in front of Manchester Town Hall after taking part in a "Heroes' Parade" through the streets of Manchester in north wes
A rainbow appears in the sky as members of the British Olympic and Paralympic teams are applauded by the general public on a stage in front of Manchester Town Hall after taking part in a "Heroes' Parade" through the streets of Manchester in north west England on Oct 17, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
Singer Rebecca Ferguson performs at the Team GB Homecoming Parade in Manchester on Oct 17, 2016.
Singer Rebecca Ferguson performs at the Team GB Homecoming Parade in Manchester on Oct 17, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - A colourful parade featuring 400 of Britain's hugely successful Olympic and Paralympics athletes including recently retired athletics great Jessica Ennis-Hill gave great cheer to several hundred thousand rain-soaked spectators in Manchester on Monday (Oct 17).

The parade - one of two with the second one taking place in London on Tuesday - winded its way through the streets of Manchester, led in the first float by a sculpted lion painted in the colours of the Union Jack and holding an Olympic torch in one of its paws.

Aside from 30-year-old Ennis-Hill - who took silver in Rio after a memorable gold in London in 2012 - other stars to appear were boxing great Nicola Adams, who successfully defended her title from London, and the Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonny, who took gold and silver respectively in the triathlon.

Their journey's end was at the Town Hall - which was emblazoned with a banner 'Olympic Heroes' - where British Prime Minister Theresa May was on hand to greet them and pay tribute to their achievements.

Team GB and The Paralympics GB squad finished runners-up in their respective medals tables.

Team GB collected 27 golds among their medal total of 67 - two more than from London 2012 - for their best-ever haul from an overseas Olympics.

The Paralympics GB squad garnered 147 medals, including 64 golds.

"Time after time the nation came to a halt as you wrote your names into the history books," said May.

"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."

The crowd - many with their faces daubed in the Union Jack colours - either lined the streets, hung out of office windows or watched the parade's progress on a big screen in Albert Square where it was due to climax.

There the crowd and the athletes were greeted by British rock band The Kaizer Chiefs, who had valiantly stepped into the breach after Ollie Murs had to withdraw at the last minute.

For the athletes despite the parade being months after the glory it was another chance to absorb how much their exploits had wowed the country especially as it came in the wake of the divisive Brexit vote.

Ennis-Hill, who is looking forward to spending time with her baby boy Reggie, said it was the ideal spectacle to say farewell to her legion of fans.

"Retirement is really good, but it's a really nice occasion to come here, be on the floats, celebrate Rio and also say goodbye to everyone," she told the BBC.

"I know 100 per cent it's the right decision, I've no regrets at all." For Paralympic gold medallist Anne Dickens the parade represented quite a journey from 2012.

"Four years ago I was standing on a road just like this, I was a Games Maker (volunteer) at that parade, it feels very funny," the Para-canoe gold medallist told the BBC.

"I always said it would be nice to get to Rio, to get a gold medal was way more than any dream I could have ever had."