Canada’s Olympians were greeted by cheering fans and throngs of media as they touched down on home soil Monday.
A large crowd of young and old alike serenaded soccer star Christine Sinclair as she arrived in Vancouver a day after carrying Canada’s flag in the London Games closing ceremony.
“We wanted, heading into this tournament, (to) leave the sport in a better place than when we’d gone into it,” she said. “I could never have imagined this (strong show of support) would have come.”
Across the country, Sinclair’s teammate Diana Matheson, who scored the dramatic winning goal in Canada’s bronze-medal victory over France, also received a hero’s welcome when she arrived at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.
“I think right now we’re going home to sleep for a week,” said Matheson.
Canada’s only gold medallist was also greeted by adoring fans in Toronto.
Trampolinist Rosie MacLennan, proudly wearing her medal around her neck, said her Olympic success has brought a lot of attention to her sport.
“Now everybody knows my name,” said the 23-year-old MacLennan, whose saw her Twitter followers explode from 900 to more than 14,000 after the big win.
It was clear in Vancouver that everybody knows Sinclair’s name too.
“We love you, Christine!” shouted one young female fan.
“She’s our captain! She’s our captain!” others chanted.
The women’s soccer bronze was one of the biggest Canadian stories of the London Games after the team lost to the United States in a semifinal marred by controversial officiating.
Sinclair said the bronze medal reaffirms her desire to go for gold again at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m not retiring,” said Sinclair. “I don’t think any of us are retiring.”
In the months leading up to the Games, the 29-year-old, Burnaby, B.C., native said she would keep playing until at least the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which Canada is hosting, and likely stay on for another year for the Rio Games.
But there was no doubt about her future Monday as she spoke to reporters, signed autographs and posed for pictures for hundreds of fans.
Sinclair helped Canada claim its first ever Olympic medal in soccer as she led all scorers at the Games with six goals. It was also Canada’s first medal in a traditional team sport at a Summer Games since 1936.
Sinclair’s teammate Sophie Schmidt said the adulation shown Canada’s captain was well deserved.
“She’s meant so much to this team, and been the heart and soul of the team for so long,” said Schmidt. “Now, finally, she has that medal. That kind of gives her that hero status. It’s fantastic.”
Soccer players Karina LeBlanc and Emily Zurrer also arrived in Vancouver on Monday as did silver-medal winning rower Krista Guloien and weightlifter Christine Girard, who won a bronze medal in London.
The strong show of support had some athletes fighting back tears.
“You can’t ask for anything more, to come out and have young girls chant your name and be supportive,” said Schmidt. “It’s fantastic.”
“We wanted to do something special for this country,” added LeBlanc.
While Sinclair was sure about her future, others were pondering theirs.
“I’m looking forward,” said star kayaker Adam van Koeverden who won silver in London. “I don’t know that I’m done.”
If van Koeverden does decide to retire, he will go out on a high note. The 30-year-old Burlington, Ont., native ranks as Canada’s all-time top paddler with four Olympic medals.
But the camaraderie with other kayakers is what he cherishes most.
“It’s cool, but it’s not the reason I do this,” he said in Toronto. “It’s not why I get up early in the morning and get on the water.”