Leeds graduates get heroes welcome

Leeds Student is very excited. A press pass has been arranged, and we might get to touch a Brownlee. Having pushed my way through the excitable crowds gathered in Millennium Square and into the press pen, I’ve got a clear view of the stage where the Brownlee brothers – Leeds graduates and Triathlon medallists – are due to make an appearance before attending a reception held in their honour in Civic Hall.

Also on the bill are Lizzie Armitstead, the Otley local who won Silver in the cycling road race, and other Leeds Olympians including the Team GB diving squad – Jack Laugher, Alicia Blagg, Hannah Starling and Sarah Barrow – and weightlifters Gareth Evans and Jack Oliver, also a Leeds student.

Leeds Youth Jazz Orchestra get the 5,000 strong crowd going with some soul classics, and then we’re treated to three dances from local group DAZL, including an all-male cheerleading routine. After their performance, the kids get to sit at the front of the stage, adding their Union Jack pom-poms to the sea of red, white and blue.

Now the real show starts – the athletes (minus the medal winners) are led on stage to deafening cheers, ‘these are Leeds’ very own super-heroes’ our host tells us, before confusing Sarah and Alicia in his introductions. Also welcomed on stage is Nicola Adams’ mum, Dee. The first female boxer to win a gold medal can’t be here, but we get a video message in which she tells the crowd ‘I couldn’t have done it without you’.

Next up is Lizzie, who raises a huge cheer, and refuses to be down-hearted at just missing out on Gold – ‘Gold can come in Rio’, she tells us, determinedly. Now it’s the Brownlee brothers. They look a little shell-shocked, ‘it’s been a fantastic week in London but to come home to Leeds is better than anything else’. A presenter asks Jonny about his collapse after the race – the Triathlon is physically draining, and incidents like this are frequent, ‘we like to take it in turns’, they joke, ‘just to stress our mum out’. Jonny also refuses to touch older brother Alistair’s gold medal, he’s waiting until he’s got his own, ‘just in case there’s a little curse. I want my own gold’.  Competition is clearly something that drives them, even as they wrap their arms around each other for endless photographs.

In the brief ten minutes they’re allowed to meet the crowds, and it’ like they’re the new One Direction – tweenie girls are hysterical, proclaiming their love and shoving home-made posters over the barrier for them to sign. And then I realise this assessment is cynical. A temporary feral state of no Internet and no TV means I’ve been bereft of these Olympics, but Millennium Square last night made up for it. I’m no sports fan, but the sight of thousands of kids so excited to welcome home these young men and women of real skill and real determination, had me belting out Heather Small’s ‘Proud’ all the way home.

Author: Lucy Snow

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