ADDIS ABABA — Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians took to the streets on Friday to welcome home the nation’s athletics stars from the Sydney Olympic Games, where they won eight medals, four of them gold.
People cheered and danced as the passenger plane carrying team members touched down and three Air Force fighter jets escorting the plane flew past in formation and performed aerobatics.
The first athlete to emerge from the plane was Derartu Tulu, who won gold in the women’s Olympic 10,000 metres title and is known by her fans as ‘The Empress’. Her appearance was met with deafening cheers.
Haile Gebrselassie was next to emerge, displaying his trademark grin to the delight of the crowds.
Ethiopia dominated the distance events in Sydney and Gebrselassie won perhaps the most thrilling race of the Olympic Games, beating Kenya’s Paul Tergat on the line in the men’s 10,000m.
Supporters waved national flags as the athletes toured the streets of Addis Ababa in a motorcade.
Although no official holiday was declared to welcome home the athletes, most schools closed and few people went to work either because they joined the celebrations or were unable to make their way through the traffic.