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Olympians grateful for NZ support

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 23/08/2016 Angelo Risso and Boris Jancic

Schoolchildren, doting grandmothers and curious office workers have all descended on Auckland to salute New Zealand's returning Olympians.

Around 170 of NZ's 201 Olympians arrived at Auckland Airport to rapturous applause on Wednesday morning before heading to The Cloud in the CBD to mingle with fans.

The Rio team won 18 medals in what was NZ's largest ever Olympic haul, including four gold medals, nine silver and five bronze.

Kiwi rower Eric Murray, who won gold alongside Hamish Bond in the men's pairs, was chuffed by the 500-strong crowd's adulation.

"They're the ones that get inspired by this, we're just doing our job of being athletes and representing our country," Murray said.

"It's great being a sportsperson and if we can inspire that one person out there to be the best, whether it's the arts or sport or whatever, that's awesome."

Fellow rower Mahe Drysdale, who claimed gold by a whisker in the men's single sculls, said Kiwis had inundated him with messages during the competition.

The experience was a humbling one.

"It certainly makes it worthwhile that what we put ourselves through, Kiwis do appreciate it," Drysdale said.

Children clamoured for autographs and selfies with their sporting idols, who were only too willing to oblige.

Zara, 10, was bussed to the arena by her school.

She and her classmates cheered the whole way to the event, where they managed to get the autograph of gold medal-winning canoeist Lisa Carrington.

"I'm really excited to see Carrington, she's a big inspiration to me and she's really made our whole country proud," Zara said.

Resplendent in his red uniform, 11-year-old Avei also sought out NZ's closing ceremony flag bearer.

"I've been trying to find her so I can take a selfie," Avei said.

"She's won a lot of medals and she's great and funny and stuff."

Carrington herself was modest in the face of the students' adoration.

"It's really cool to see we've touched the children, and how excited they are," Carrington said.

"I've only been back a few hours so this is pretty intense, but it's special."

Chef de Mission Rob Waddell was pleased with the effort and conduct of each of his team members during the Rio campaign.

All athletes had given their best and deserved praise, he said.

"It's really great to come back to the best country in the world," Waddell said.

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