The Bahamas team which competed at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China received a hero’s welcome and red carpet treatment in Grand Bahama.

The 20-member contingent arrived onboard a chartered Bahamasair plane around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to the sounds of Junkanoo music.

As the athletes walked down the red carpet after exiting the airplane, the list of dignitaries on hand to greet them included Senator the Hon. Katherine Forbes-Smith, Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister; Senator the Hon. David Thompson and Verna Grant, Member of Parliament for the Eight Mile Rock Constituency.

Following a brief welcoming ceremony at the Grand Bahama International Airport, the athletes were driven by a special chartered bus to West End, Grand Bahama as guests of the Old Bahama Bay Resort. The resort is providing a three day/two night stay free of charge to the Olympians and team officials.

On Wednesday night, the athletes were treated to a Dinner Reception in the tastefully decorated Aqua Room at the Old Bahama Bay Resort. On hand to greet the athletes was the Minister for Youth Sports and Culture, the Hon. Desmond Bannister; Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, the Hon. Quasi Thompson; and Senator the Hon. Katherine Forbes-Smith who headed the organising committee.

Leaders from the various sporting organisations and elected officials from the West End Local Government Township also attended that function.

The entire contingent was somewhat surprised at the extent to which Grand Bahama went in showing their appreciation, so much so that Triple Jump bronze medallist Leevan Sands, speaking on behalf of the athletes thanked Grand Bahama for its efforts in making the team feel welcomed and appreciated.

Wednesday night’s activities were capped off when Senator Smith and her team presented 400 metres star Chris Brown with a cake in honour of his birthday.

On Thursday morning after a Bahamian styled breakfast at Old Bahama Bay, the athletes were taken by bus in air-conditioned comfort to the Independence Park in Freeport, where they met thousands of school children, parents, fans and sporting enthusiasts from throughout Grand Bahama assembled and waving the Bahamian flag.

The athletes were escorted to their seats by students from the various schools as their names were announced.

Newly elected Bahamas Olympic Association President, Willington Miller was not among the scheduled list of speakers but took to the platform to thank Grand Bahamians for their support of the athletes and the giving them a grand reception.

He also hinted that the organising committee on Grand Bahama might consider going into Nassau and elsewhere to show how a celebration should take place.

At the Independence Park the athletes were entertained by the Jack Hayward High School Band, and talented signing by students from St. George High School, Bishop Michael Eldon School and more. There was also a special guest appearance by popular recording artist, KB.

Senator the Hon. Frederick McAlpine brought remarks on behalf on the Grand Bahamians telling the athletes, “We love you as a people and country.

“I am sure the nation would want me to make it emphatically clear that this love is not limited to just the medallists, but to all who participated in the Olympics. We recongise your worth and esteem your representation.

“Team Bahamas, past and present, continues to achieve greatness. Athleticism in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas persists to elevate itself as a beacon of light on a hill in this global world,” he said.

Senator McAlpine also acknowledged that despite the small country from which they have come, for the Olympians to achieve what they have on behalf of the Bahamian people, makes the country number one.

“We wish to commend and encourage our athletes, not just in Track and Field, but Swimming, Boxing and Tennis also. We love you just as much and with consistency, it’s just a matter of time; you will reap the rewards on our behalf,” he said.

Senator McAlpine also told the thousands of young people assembled that Olympic athletes and medallists are good examples and that one day they could be at centre stage representing The Bahamas globally.

He said the athletes did not get there overnight and that “they were resolute to succeed, despite the odds that may have come up against them.

“They wanted to achieve. They wanted their parents to be proud of them and people to look up to them,” he said.

He called on young people to take a page out of the athletes’ book, pointing out that they are not fighting and brawling.

“Young people, look at these Bahamian athletes. You can be like them. You can do what they did and more. But, you have to stay drug free, discipline yourself, obey your parents, respect your elders, listen to the teacher’s instruction, study hard and you can be whatever you want to be.”

He added, “Athletes, Team Bahamas, we appreciate your effort, applaud your stick-ability and salute your sacrifice. We cannot help but love you and be proud of you as a nation.”

After taking in a special luncheon at the popular Magnolia Bistro Dining Café on Settlers Way, Freeport, the athletes participated in a special motorcade throughout Freeport, Eight Mile Rock and West End.

They were expected to leave Freeport at 7:15 a.m. Friday and continue their visits to the Family Islands, particularly those affected by the recent hurricane.