Team GB head home (Getty Images)
London - Great
Britain's triumphant Olympic team returned home from the Rio Games in a
gold-nosed aircraft on Tuesday, as officials trumpeted their success the
"best sporting achievement" in the country's history.
Some 320 athletes and support staff travelled back from Brazil in the
British Airways Boeing 747 with "victoRIOus" emblazoned on the side,
and the airline ordered an extra 77 bottles of champagne for the 11-hour
Team GB's medal haul was its biggest for more than a century, with 67
in all including 27 gold, putting them behind only the United States in
the overall standings in Rio.
"I think it is the best sporting achievement by any team in British
sporting history," said British chef de mission Mark England, flanked by
team members, at a press conference at London's Heathrow Airport.
Adam Peaty, who started the British gold rush by smashing his own
world record to win the 100 metres breaststroke swimming title added:
"It's great to be back on British soil again and I can't wait to inspire
the next generation of British athletes."
Katherine Grainger said she was glad the team had been a source of joy
for the country after a year of political upheaval.
"The lovely thing is that after London 2012 we thought it could not
be replicated, that feeling of uniting a nation, but the reaction here
at Heathrow is just a small taste of what is to come," she explained.
"It's felt like it's been a tough year for the country and the good
thing about sport is that it unites the country with some good news, for
a short time at least," added Grainger, whose career five medals make
her Britain's most decorated female Olympian.
Some of the medallists' families were present to watch them land,
along with Hugh Robertson, Britain's sports minister at the time of the
2012 Games in London.
performance in Rio was the best by any country that had hosted the
immediate preceding Olympics and Robertson, now a vice-president of the
British Olympic Association (BOA) said the knock-on effect from London
had played a part.
"One of the objectives was to leave a legacy for UK athletes for generations to come," he told AFP.
"Rio has surpassed all our expectations," added Robertson, who flew back from Brazil last Friday.
"This plan wasn't drawn up on the back of a fag (cigarette) packet,
although that isn't perhaps the most apposite analogy to use for
Cycling saw Britain's "golden couple" of Jason Kenny and fiancee Laura Trott triumph in the velodrome.
Kenny matched British cycling great Chris Hoy's tally of six golds
with three wins in Rio, while Trott won two of her own to take her total
Several British competitors defended titles won in London, notably Mo
Farah who again took gold in both the 5 000 metres and 10 000 metres,
with boxing's Nicola Adams and taekwondo's Jade Jones also repeating
their victories of four years ago.
Double gold medal-winning gymnast Max Whitlock and Adams were first
off the plane, posing and waving for photographers, before the rest of
the team followed to further cheers and applause from airport staff.
Also on the plane were triathlon medal-winning brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee.
The United States finished with 121 medals in Rio, including 46 golds.
But BOA chief executive Bill Sweeney cautioned against hopes Britain
could replace them at the head of the standings at the 2020 Games in
"Topping the Americans may be a long shot, it's just been an
incredible moment," Sweeney said. "No team has done what we have -
improve five Games in a row, medals-wise.
"Tokyo will be tough... Japan are stronger than the Brazilians, China
will bounce back, there will be a full Russian team and Australia will
be strong. However, we have a young team, so the potential is there."