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Unforgettable homecoming as Halesowen honours Olympic hero Kristian Thomas
The heavens opened, the crowds got drenched and the band thought they would be electrocuted but when Olympic hero Kristian Thomas arrived it prompted scenes not seen in Halesowen since The Yeltz’s FA Vase successes in the 1980s.
The unassuming gymnast who has trained at Earls Gymnastic Club for 18 years was taken aback by the scale of adulation as over 500 people braved the rain for his Olympic homecoming on Tuesday.
Friends, family, coaches, fellow gymnasts, sportsmen and women from across the town, politicians, well wishers, a throng of television, radio and news journalists and the mayor of Dudley all came to bask in the Olympian’s glory.
Blissfully unaware on route in the back of an Audi A8 Kristian had no idea the panic ensuing at the club as the best laid plans were scuppered by stair-rods.
The glam band were primed to play Mr Blue Sky, his public were waiting and an empty podium awaited the hero but torrential rain meant a mad rush to relocate everything inside as quickly as possible.
The sun had returned by the time Kristian made his entrance at 6.15pm, flanked by Olympic torchbearers, and the crowds went wild all trying to get a glimpse of his cherished bronze medal.
The shock of it all was only betrayed by a nervous smile and the 23-year-old confirmed did not have a clue about the civic reception.
He said: “I was just told to put my Olympic tracksuit on, bring my medal and wear a smile and that was it, I had no idea this was going to happen.
“I can not believe how many people have turned up today, it was nice to have a surprise like this.”
After negotiating his way through a guard of honour of star-struck children Kristian emerged into the hall to see even more familiar faces to a chorus of cheers and screams.
The local DJ did not have to whip the crowd up but he still gave it a go before handing the microphone to Kristian.
Staring back at him were burly rugby players sporting black eyes, upright cricketers in immaculate blazers, excited children, coaches, politicians, Olympic officials, politicians and photographers battling for the best shot.
In the crowd were his proud parents, grandfather, girlfriend and his none-plussed mates amused their old mate is now a bona-fide sports star complete with 52,000 Twitter followers and the adulation of the Duchess of Cambridge.
Even the most boisterous of children fell silent as he thanked everyone he had to and described his exploits during the Olympics when he captivated the nation.
He stood back as the Mayor of Dudley Cllr Melvyn Mottram declared: “Kristian is a true icon of the Black Country and is an inspiration to a whole generation.”
After more plaudits from the great and the good Kristian was rushed off for more interviews, photos and autograph signings with those who could not get in the club.
Speaking to the News during a quite moment he said: “It has been crazy. "But I have had to make a lot of sacrifices to get where I am as have my girlfriend and my family so I am just going to enjoy it all at the moment but I am already looking forward to getting back in the gym in a few weeks and doing what I do best which is training hard.”
He added: “I just want to thank everyone involved and everyone who turned up for this wonderful homecoming.”
Earls Gymnastic Club chairman Jon Caulwell had a grin like a Cheshire cat throughout proceedings and ensured local councillors got to see a demonstration of young gymnasts in the hope of all important funding.
He said: “What Kristian, who couldn’t be a nicer lad if he tried despite being a Dingle, and his team did in the Olympics was just fantastic and put gymnastics on the map.
“For the first time ever in pubs and clubs people were talking about gymnastics instead of football and cricket.”
He added: “I am just so delighted that all the other sports clubs sent a delegation here today to welcome Kristian back and I think this could be a real turning point.
“We should all now start working together for the next generation of sportsmen and women in Halesowen.”