WHILST Coleraine’s trio of Olympic medal winning rowers may not have expected the thousands of delighted supporters who turned out to see them as part of their London 2012 Games homecoming – they were not surprised that the heavens opened for their arrival.
Peter and Richard Chambers and Alan Campbell were surrounded in their native town by young and old who wanted to see the medals their heroes won for Team GB at the London Games.
In Coleraine town centre, children wrapped in Union flags and waving the Team GB flags waited in the pouring rain for their idols to appear.
Alan said that he found yesterday’s experience “unbelievable”.
“You are now looking at the three proudest people in the UK, if not the world, right now and I think we are just immensely proud of the legacy that will hopefully carry on from here,” he said.
“I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these two guys.
“The reaction we have had from Coleraine and from Northern Ireland has been exceptional,” added Alan. “We expected the weather but nothing else really. We were in the mayor’s parlour and they said we were sons of Coleraine – and we are.
“We grew up in this town. Rowing on the Bann has been a big part of our lives and it has taken us to these dizzy heights to win medals at the Olympic Games. That’s been a dream come true.
“It is our dream to have got there and it is a dream come true. These medals may be around our necks and we get to hold them but it is really down to the people of
Coleraine and support we had from the beginning in the grassroots.”
He added that they would now like to see “world class facilities for world class athletes”.
Richard said he found the homecoming “pretty overwhelming”.
He said: “It has been an amazing afternoon that will only start to sink in when we go home and talk it through with our families.”
Peter said: “I never expected
anything like that. We raced for
Coleraine and Northern Ireland and for our club.”
The trio agreed that three weeks ago they “would not have predicted we would be in this situation right now”.
“I don’t think any of us thought we would be here today,” said Richard. “To have actually done it shows it can be done.”
Alan added that he hoped young people in the borough will be “inspired by what we have done”.
“I was terrible at sport, had two left feet and could barely run the length of myself but I was always enthusiastic and enjoyed it,” he said.
“I enjoyed being part of a great team and when I got the opportunity to try rowing I knew that was the sport for me. I am thankful I had that opportunity.
“Hopefully young people will be inspired by what we have done and be enthusiastic and passionate about it, all the things that create champions.”
Earlier the men were cheered by supporters at George Best Belfast City Airport. Alan’s mother, Jenny Campbell, said the celebrations in Coleraine are a great accolade.
She said she was delighted by the way he conducted himself after winning his medal and that he is a popular young man who “endeared himself to the crowds”.
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilín said their “achievement really does transcend sport and serves as an inspiration to us all”.
“To compete at an Olympic Games is a fantastic achievement. It takes years of effort, dedication and sacrifice, not to mention the support of coaching staff, family and countless others,” she said.
“Winning an Olympic medal is a step up again. It indicates that an athlete has joined the elite and ensures not only recognition in their field but also a place in history.
“Peter Chambers, Richard Chambers and Alan Campbell have made it to the very top of their sport. Through their hard-earned personal success, they have brought rowing to much wider attention.”
She said Coleraine “can now claim to be the nurturing ground for three Olympians”.
“I am pleased to be here to welcome these three medallists and join in this celebration of their success.”