After Olympics, London Sees Exodus Of Thousands

The well-staged London Olympics have drawn to a close and on Monday, thousands of fans made their way to airports for the flight home.

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Now to London where an exodus is underway. Today, thousands of Olympic athletes headed home carrying memories. And some of them, medals.

NPR's Philip Reeves has this story about the day of departure.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: There's something surreal about these Olympics. They've generated such euphoria. For athletes flying out today, life carried on being surreal even when they got to the airport. Thousands of them checked in at their own specially built terminal at Heathrow. The place is decorated as a London park with benches and trees, fake Victorian gas lamps and model deer. The British worked hard to create a feel-good factor around these games. They're trying to keep it going to the end.

Courtney Mathewson, from the victorious United States women's water polo team, certainly seems to be feeling good as she heads home.

COURTNEY MATHEWSON: It's been a great experience and everyone has been so kind and welcoming here. And we're lucky enough to win gold. So I think that really topped off a celebration in the Olympics for us.

REEVES: Former teammate, Tumua Anae, that gold medal is definitely surreal.

TUMUA ANAE: I don't know if it's really set in yet. I feel like I need to like, you know, go home, go back to something a little bit more normal. And then, I don't know, to wake up, you see your gold medal and you're like, whoa, is that really mine.

(LAUGHTER)

REEVES: An estimated 6,000 athletes are leaving through Heathrow today. That's a fraction of the overall crowd. Officials expect some 116,000 departures by day's end, some 20,000 more than usual.

Athletes, officials, journalists, and fans are leaving behind a land many of whose inhabitants are in a remarkably good mood. In Britain, where people can often seem aloof and gloomy, that's surreal too. The British generally appeared delighted the games went so smoothly. They're third on the medals table, after the U.S. and China, an achievement of which there are also thrilled.

London's completely surreal mayor, Boris Johnson, made that clear as he thanked Britain's athletes.

MAYOR BORIS JOHNSON: Team GB, in 2012, you have one with fair play, haven't you?

(APPLAUSE)

JOHNSON: And sportsmanship...

(APPLAUSE)

JOHNSON: ...and will session British values and propelled by no spin miller's more sinister than McDonald's...

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: ...or Coca-Cola.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: That's how you've done it, isn't it? And effort - sheer effort, guts, determination and preparation.

REEVES: Preparations are now underway for the Paralympics, which open in London in just over two weeks.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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