Kat Copeland, the first Olympic champion to have trained largely on the River Tees, found a hero's welcome awaiting her when she returned to her rowing club on Wednesday (15 August).
Hundreds of members of the public and invited family, friends and other guests joined Stockton's Mayor and other VIPs to greet Kat as she arrived for a very special party. The homecoming welcome took place 11 days after Kat, with her rowing partner Sophie Hosking, won the women's lightweight double sculls title at the Olympic rowing lake at Eton Dorney.
Arriving in a golden Bentley limousine, complete with motorcycle escort, live tv cameras and media photographers greeted Kat before she was introduced to the crowds to the tune of 'Gold' by Spandau Ballet and an explosion of confetti. Meanwhile, a giant screen showed her Olympic triumph.
After speeches by Tees Rowing Club President John Green and the Mayor of Stockton, Councillor Lynne Apedaile, Kat defied the by-now torrential rain to meet well-wishers in the crowd, sign autographs and have her picture taken with anyone who wanted to.
She said: “Thanks so much to everyone for coming – thank you so much. I didn’t expect it. I know it’s raining but it is really nice that everyone can be here.”
Those present were even able to touch her medal, which had just returned to her after running repairs to the ribbon. “I have just got it back – I was a bit stressed out about it but it is going to stick with me from now," Kat added. She will now enjoy a well-earned holiday before considering her future plans.
Offering her congratulations on behalf of the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees, Councillor Apedaile said Stockton Council is determined to create a lasting legacy from Kat's gold medal success and the London 2012 Olympics.
"We would like to work with Kat and Tees Rowing Club to donate a double sculling boat, along with an accompanying bursary, to Tees Rowing Club," she said.
"The club will use these to support its work to promote high performance rowing on the Tees. This will encourage and enable local young people to become the next generation of elite rowers from this area. I look forward to hearing of their success in the future."
For the next few days, the Council has switched its new coloured riverside lighting in Stockton to show gold in her honour, along with the red, white and blue of Great Britain.
The Mayor added: "The Council would like to invite Kat – and hopefully Sophie as well – to come and be the "stars of the Golden River Tees" by rowing alongside our new river lighting system as a further opportunity to celebrate their success. Hopefully we can arrange this sooner, rather than later, once the evenings are a little darker, so look out for announcements nearer the time."