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Friday, 6 October, 2000, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Ethiopians celebrate Olympic success
Haile Gebreselassie
The return of Haile the conquerer
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia was in a jubilant mood on Friday as up to one million people lined the streets of Addis Ababa to welcome home the Ethiopian athletic team from the Sydney 2000 Olympics.


The people of Ethiopia mean everything to me and I'm fortunate that they support me like this

Haile Gebreselassie
Encouraged by the government and employers, work was suspended, and schools and colleges closed, allowing people to join the celebrations and congratulate the Ethiopian athletic team.

The team made up of 28 athletes and 3 boxers, won eight medals - four gold, one silver and three bronze, becoming Africa's most successful nation at the Sydney games.

Preparations for their return started at the beginning of the week, when the Ethiopian national flag was hoisted all over the city. Vehicles, shops, homes and government offices displayed pictures of what Ethiopia has called their 'brave and courageous athletes'.

Scenes of colour

On Friday, Addis Ababa, became a sea of bright red, yellow and green - people waved flags and wore their national colours with a pride and dignity, that was unsurpassable.


Returning heroes
As the plane carrying the athletes landed at Bole International airport, much to the delight of the supporters, three fighter jets whizzed through the air, followed by two helicopter gun ships, which guided the aircraft as it docked into the bay.

As the athletes descended from the aircraft, close family and friends as well as members of press ambushed them, congratulating them with flowers, hugs and kisses.

After being officially congratulated by senior officials the athletes were taken on the victory salute around the city in open top presidential limousines and buses.

Gold medallists
Haile Gebreselassie (men's 10000m)
Deratu Tulu (women's 10,000m)
Million Wolde (men's 5,000m)
Gezahegn Abera (men's marathon)
As well as the gold medallists, Geti Wami won a silver and bronze and Assefa Mezgebu and Tesfaye Tolls also won bronzes.

Hero

But the hero of the day, was Haile Gebreselassie who won his second Olympic gold medal for 10000 metres.

When asked how he felt, this modest and humble man, replied: "I really can't believe it. I expected a warm welcome, but nothing like this. The people of Ethiopia mean everything to me and I'm fortunate that they support me like this".


A massive welcome greets marathon winner Gezahegn Abera
After their victory tour around the city, which involved a motorcade followed by hundreds of cars decorated with the Ethiopian tricolour and floats sporting Ethiopian traditional dancers and blaring out Ethiopian music, the athletes joined massive crowds at the main square in the capital - Meskal Square.

Over 500,000 packed into the square shouting 'yichalal' an amharic word meaning 'It is possible' - a slogan which the athletic team have sported up to and during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

The great sense of national pride that Ethiopians displayed in their athletes, has lifted the morale of the people, who have endured a difficult two year war with Eritrea and severe drought.

Ethiopia has also made its mark on the map, giving hope that for the future.

It is possible for others too - 'Yichalal' .

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See also:

25 Sep 00 | Athletics-Track
Hero Haile holds on for gold
01 Oct 00 | Athletics-Track
Africans enjoy marathon clean sweep
02 Oct 00 | Africa
Olympics: Africa leaves it late
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