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Thousands welcome Ennis back home

Jessica Ennis

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Jessica Ennis described the scene welcoming her home in Sheffield as “incredible”

Up to 20,000 people gathered in Sheffield city centre to welcome home Olympic champion Jessica Ennis.

The gold-medal winning heptathlete took to a stage to greet the packed crowd of fans as she was told she was to be handed the freedom of the city.

Ennis, 26, said it was nice to be home but “more than anything it is overwhelming”.

Despite heavy rain earlier, people had started to gather two hours before her arrival.

Ennis said: “I cannot believe how many people are here. It goes all the way back.

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At the scene

Sheffield’s streets filled for a glimpse of its golden girl.

The rain didn’t stop crowds gathering hours before the event to celebrate her gold medal.

Young and old stood proudly in patriotic colours and flashes of gold glinted in the crowd.

From DIY gold medals to frizzy, sparkling comedy wigs, golden touches lit up the event.

Meanwhile, her mother and father stood quietly and took in the scene.

Strangers who had never met the athlete but had seen Jess on TV shed tears and swelled with local pride.

Any mention of Jess’s name produced a forest of hand-made placards and union flags.

Sheffield was in seventh heaven.

“It’s a beautiful city with amazing facilities and this is my home and the place I love.

“Thank you so much to every single one of you here.

“If I could thank you all individually, I would. There are so many of you. You’ve been incredible – not just these past few weeks, but the past few years.

“You’ve always been there to support me. I can’t thank you enough.”

After greeting the crowd, Ennis was presented with a “Sheffield Legends” plaque, which had been temporarily removed from outside the city hall and painted gold to commemorate her Olympic win.

The celebrations also involved streamers bursting over the crowds and fireworks.

The thousands of people at Barker’s Pool meant that as fans continued to come into the city centre, late-comers had to watch events relayed to a second big screen on Fargate.

Trees had been sprayed gold and people were also being asked to wear the colour.

‘Into the stratosphere’

Julie Dore, the leader of Sheffield Council, said the event was “more than special” and put Sheffield on the “international stage”.

Looking out at the crowd, she said: “It’s a sea of gold and I’m just so happy. It’s sent us into the stratosphere.”

Tony Minichiello, Ennis’s coach, said: “This is the end of four years’ work, and emotionally it is like falling off the end of a cliff.

“But I’ve got the best job in the world.”

Claire Beckett, from Sheffield, took her two daughters Harley, 16, and Raegan, 10, to stand in the front row to “experience the atmosphere”.

The crowds at the eventUp to 20,000 people attended the homecoming party

“We don’t mind getting wet. It’s a bit of fun,” said Mrs Beckett.

Harley said she had been inspired by Ennis’s achievements.

“It shows you can achieve something from nothing.

“It brings it closer to home. Because she lives where we live, it’s different.”

Balm Green, next to the city hall, has been transformed into a mini athletics track where young people can try out their skills on some of the sporting disciplines of the heptathlon.

After greeting the crowd, Ennis was given a civic reception inside the city hall and presented with two pairs of gold shoes, a cake and a painting of herself by local artist Pete McKee.

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