Page last updated at 16:36 GMT, Saturday, 30 August 2008 17:36 UK

Village welcomes Olympic champion

Nicole Cooke and cyclists
Nicole Cooke had a vanguard of cyclists as she flourished her medal

She has been feted at Heathrow airport and in Cardiff Bay, and now her home village has welcomed back Olympic champion Nicole Cooke.

Wick in the Vale of Glamorgan turned festive for the 25-year-old cyclist who began Team GB's Beijing "gold rush".

She was a familiar sight for years on roads in the area, as she applied herself to a punishing training regime which ended in her Beijing gold medal.

Cooke said it was "incredible to be back" where her golden career began.

"Well it's incredible to be back, it's home, it's where I've grown up , it's where my cycling started, and it's wonderful to share the success that I had just as one person with the whole village," she said in Wick.

"And it's not just the village, (it's) everyone from cycling, south Wales, and friends and family from far away.

Watch Nicole Cooke's homecoming welcome

"There's lots of people that have come today and it's great that we'll have a big celebration all together."

Earlier in the week at a reception for Olympians in Cardiff Bay, First Minister Rhodri Morgan said it was Cooke's success on the second day of the games which "kicked off the gold rush".

Cooke said she hoped her success would spur on others.

"I hope it shows most people what a fun sport it is, how much fun it is to ride bikes, and if it means more people taking part in the sport for fun, for commuting, or even going into racing that would be good."

Accompanied by a vanguard of dozens of cyclists, Cooke was taken on an an open-top bus tour of Wick and neighbouring villages where she waved to crowds and showed off her medal.

Community council chair Pauline Thomas said: "We're letting our pride show."

Nicole Cooke shows off her gold medal
The 25-year-old was the first Team GB athlete to win gold at Beijing
Cooke was the first Welsh athlete to claim a gold medal at the Olympics since 1972.

She is also only the second Welsh woman to have won Olympic gold, following Cardiff swimmer Irene Steer's win in the 4x100m freestyle relay in 1912.

Local barmaid Hannah Thomas said Cooke was a well-recognised figure in the area as she trained in all weathers from a young age.

She often cycled a longer than necessary route to and from school as a way to increase her weekly mileage.

She said: "It's brilliant that all her hard work has paid off over many, many years. She's shown such determination and motivation.

Mrs Thomas said: "She's a village girl and we want to say 'well done Nicole'.

"Everybody remembers Nicole and her brother riding their bikes to school every day.

"We have seen her work hard. We know how hard she's worked and her achievement is so great."

Cooke grabs first GB gold medal
10 Aug 08 |  Cycling

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