Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Wednesday, 27 August 2008 18:47 UK

Ethiopia welcomes Olympics stars

Garlanded Ethiopian athletes arrive in Addis Ababa
The victorious team were given a heroes' welcome in Addis Ababa

Thousands of cheering Ethiopians have lined the streets of the capital, Addis Ababa, to welcome home the country's Olympic gold-medal winning athletes.

Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi was at the airport to greet the team, led by Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, both of whom won two golds at Beijing.

The team was led from the airport in open-topped cars past ecstatic crowds.

Ethiopia traditionally excels at long-distance running and finished 18th overall in the Olympic medal table.

The country's athletes brought home from Beijing four gold, one silver and two bronze medals, dramatically improving on their haul at Athens four years ago, when they finished 28th.

The airport reception for the athletes was followed by a larger ceremony at Addis Ababa's 30,000-seater National Stadium.

The crowd there braved the threat of rain as it waited for the athletes, whose aircraft was delayed by more than six hours.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt says the stadium greeted the athletes' appearance by shouting and jumping up and down, waving Ethiopian flags.

Ethiopian runner Birhane Adere reaches the finish line during the Dubai Marathon 2008
Ethiopia has a deep well of distance running talent

"Our athletes have placed the country among the elite of countries that excel in athletics," Ethiopia's Minister of Youth and Sport, Aster Mamo, said at the event.

"We, as a country and government, are very proud of the achievements," she added.

Kenenisa Bekele described the ceremony as "a special moment".

"The fans have repaid our success with their enthusiastic welcome," he said.

Bekele won gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m at Beijing while his compatriot, Tirunesh Dibaba, won gold in the women's 5,000m and 10,000m.

Legendary Ethiopian long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie also drew loud applause from the audience, though he did not win any medals at this year's games.

Bekele storms to Olympic double
23 Aug 08 |  Athletics
Dibaba storms to Olympic double
22 Aug 08 |  Athletics
Country profile: Ethiopia
03 Jun 08 |  Country profiles


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