By Alessandra Rizzo and Kate Holton
LONDON, Sept 10 Hundreds of thousands of Britons
took to the streets of London on Monday to cheer Olympic and
Paralympic athletes, celebrating a summer of spectacular sport
that surprised even the most optimistic by lifting the host
In scenes reminiscent of the Royal Jubilee and the 2011
wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, flag-waving fans
crammed into the centre of the city to cheer the likes of Mo
Farah, Jessica Ennis and David Weir a day after the 45-day event
came to an end.
The 800 athletes who rode atop 21 floats were treated to a
fly past by the jets of the Royal Air Force's Red Arrows stunt
team after winding their way past many of the landmarks that
made up the backdrop to the London Games.
"It's been fantastic," said 39-year-old Sophie Edwards,
alongside her four-year-old daughter Hannah. "It's been very
inspiring - such a good message for the younger generation."
The sense of national pride generated by the successful
running of the world's biggest sporting event contrasts with the
sense of foreboding that built up before the Games, with the
media questioning whether a country still in recession should be
paying $14 billion to host a sports event.
A last-minute failure by a private company to provide enough
security guards also raised fears about the Games taking place
under a heavy military presence as organisers called up extra
armed forces personnel to police the event.
Instead the Games were deemed to have given Britain a
much-needed lift, although, with years of government austerity
ahead, questions remain over how long the feel-good factor will
Serving for the last time in his role as London's biggest
cheerleader for the Games, the city's eccentric mayor Boris
Johnson received the loudest roar from the athletes and crowds
as he described the day as the "final tear-sodden juddering
"You routed the doubters and you scattered the gloomsters,"
he said to cheers. "And for the first time in living memory you
caused Tube train passengers to break into spontaneous
conversation with their neighbours about subjects other than
their trod-on toes."
Many of those who gathered in the streets praised the
athletes and the organisers for lifting their spirits.
"Britain has been a rather dull place recently," said
Maureen East as her daughter took photos of the passing open-top
"We've had a lot of things going badly, the economy, the
weather. This is a ray of sunshine in your life. Coming here
seemed the right thing to do to finish it off nicely."
"SEASON OF WONDER"
Some of the loudest cheers were for the thousands of unpaid
volunteers who presented a welcoming face to visitors in a city
not renown for its public displays of emotion.
"Sunday night marked the end of a season of wonder that
seemed to surprise the hosts as much as the guests, a period
where we looked in the mirror and were met by an unexpected
reflection - one we rather liked," the Guardian newspaper said.
Prime Minister David Cameron, surrounded by volunteers on
the doorstep to his Number 10 Downing Street residence, said the
success of the athletes and the praise from visitors around the
world had given the country a huge boost.
"It's brought the country together. I think 2012 will be
like 1966 ... something that will continue to delight us long
after this time has passed," he said, referring to England's
sole victory at the soccer World Cup.
The host nation finished third in the Olympic medal table -
behind the United States and China but ahead of Russia, Korea
and Germany - and third in the Paralympic medal table, behind
China and Russia.