Olympians gave us all lift
By Grant Johnston
Their deeds in Athens warmed our hearts and brought tears to the eyes of emotional New Zealanders and yesterday it was our turn to honour the Waipa Olympians.
In case anyone wondered whether the deeds of Sarah Ulmer, the Evers-Swindell twins and our other Olympians meant anything to Te Awamutu people, the huge crowd that showed up certainly dispelled any doubt.
The people who lined both sides of Alexandra Street for the 11.30am parade traversed the age range - there were infants and school children as well as rest home residents.
Unfortunately, a personal commitment kept Caroline Evers-Swindell away from the Te Awamutu parade, but no-one in the crowd felt shortchanged.
Sheryl Olsen of Groovee Thingz watched wistfully as school children assembled on the road opposite her shop - “I remember when I was about that age waiting for the Queen to come through Te Awamutu.”
There is no doubt the thousands of youngsters who attended yesterday’s parade will remember it for many years to come.
Pirongia School teacher Shona Johnston said it was an emotional moment as Sarah Ulmer passed their contingent of children.
“Sarah visited the school a couple of times last year. The children spontaneously chanted ‘Sarah, Sarah, Sarah’ as she waved. For the children, knowing someone who has achieved something so special, makes the world suddenly seem a smaller place.”
Graham Hunn, a Te Awamutu Sports Cycling Club stalwart who moved to Auckland earlier this year, was back enjoying the fact that the Waipa Olympians deeds have thrust cycling and rowing into the national limelight.
“For Sarah it may have been just under three and a half minutes of glorious riding at Athens, but her gold medal journey began 10 years ago after the junior worlds. She has used every experience in that 10 years building towards her moment of glory.”
Mike Waters, owner of Stirling Sports, said the evening time slot for Olympic coverage from Athens meant a huge number of New Zealanders had watched plenty of this year’s Olympics.
He said having New Zealand teams and
individuals starring on the world stage was
great for business as more children got into
sport and were conscious of getting exactly
the right gear.
Parade truly memorable
On the More FM stage during the speeches that climaxed the Olympic homecoming parade, Sarah Ulmer said her most memorable moment since the gold medal win was the parade in Te Awamutu (which preceded the Cambridge parade).
“It’s incredible, unexpected and absolutely fantastic,” she said in reference to the welcome home to Waipa.
Asked whether she would attend the next Olympics in four years time she replied that it was a question for another day.
“I’m loving being back home and I’m just soaking up the atmosphere at the moment. Brendon (Cameron, partner and coach) is Te Awamutu born and bred. He’s loving this (welcome). He’s the heart of our operation.”
Georgina Evers-Swindell offered an apology for Caroline who could not make it. She described the event as “extremely overwhelming”.
Winning the gold medal had been satisfying and in recent days they were beginning to realise just how much it meant to other New Zealanders.
Waipa District Mayor Alan Livingston paid tribute to the Olympians for making the effort to attend the parades.
“It is fantastic to see so many people attend this parade to welcome home our special Olympians and especially our gold medal winners. How lucky and how proud we are to have three of New Zealand’s four gold medal winners living and training in our district. Waipa is a great place to live and it is so central with excellent sporting facilities.
“Just like Olympic champions, we can’t rest on our laurels. Waipa District Council and the region are obliged to work to further improve facilities.”
Mr Livingston paid credit to the sponsors, to Council staff for a fantastic job in organising and staging the parades and all those who assisted.