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Athletes greeted by applause back home
Updated: 2004-09-01 00:00

The Chinese Olympic delegation returned to a heroes' welcome.

With a record 32 gold medals, 17 silvers and 14 bronzes won in Athens, the Chinese athletes landed at Beijing International Airport Tuesday morning. Scores of spectators hailed their great triumph with applause and cheers.

Liu Xiang, Olympic gold winner of men's 110m hurdles, embraces his mother at the Beijing Capital International Airport after the Athens Olympic Games August 31, 2004. [newsphoto]

Families and friends of the athletes were also at hand.

Li Changchun, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, offered the athletes his congratulations.

"You are the pride of the motherland! The motherland welcomes you back!" Li said.

China ranked a record second place behind the United States in the final gold medal table of the Athens Olympics, achieving its best ever result in Olympic history.

"Motherland, I love you!" exclaimed Liu Xiang, China's new hero who won China's first gold medal in men's track and field when he matched the world record of 12.91 seconds in the men's 110m hurdles.

"We were so encouraged when we learned in Athens the hope and support from the nation for our team," said Chen Zhonghe, coach of the gold-winning women's volleyball team.

For China, Athens was an ideal training ground for young athletes, on whom the country's hopes will rest during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"We saw our weaknesses," international basketball superstar Yao Ming said of the Chinese team's eighth-place.

"In preparing for 2008, our 24 teammates need to learn from our valuable experiences in this Olympic Games," Yao said.

Zhang Yining, who took China's 100th gold in summer Olympics after winning the women's table tennis singles final, talked about her future plans.

"Our team will focus on the preparations for the 2008 Olympics.

"I did well in Athens, but we have found our rivals stronger, thus our future tasks will be quite tough," Zhang said.

The Chinese athletes will try to do better in Beijing 2008, Yuan Weimin, head of the Chinese delegation, said to the media on Sunday.

Together with the Chinese delegation, Wang Qishan, mayor of Beijing, also returned home after taking over the Olympic flag from his Athenian counterpart during the closing ceremony on August 29.

A welcome ceremony for the Olympic flag, which goes to the next Olympic host Beijing, was held Tuesday night in front of the National Museum on Tiananmen Square.

A count-down clock was set up to signal the coming of the Beijing Olympics in the square.

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