Olympic gold medallist Bart Swings welcomed home

Olympic gold medallist Bart Swings welcomed home
Bart Swings wins gold in the mass start speed skating race at the Beijing Winter Olympics. IOC photo

Olympic speed skating gold medalist Bart Swings came home to a hero's welcome when he returned from Beijing on Monday.

Swings won gold in the mass start speed skating on 19 February, the first Belgian to win gold at a Winter Olympics in 74 years. In 1948, Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet took a pairs figure skating gold. 

Swings won the silver medal in the mass start event four years ago at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, making him the first Belgian two-time Winter Olympics medalist.

Alongside fellow Belgian Hanne Desmet, who won bronze in the women's 1000-meter short track event, the pair were honoured at the Mechelen Ice Skating Center. Both commented how Covid-restrictions muted their celebrations in Beijing, Belga News Agency reports.

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"I had to wait a long time before I could hug my friends and family," said Swings. "It's been a long journey but we're here. I didn't really know what to expect but it's fantastic."

Swings will have more chances to hug friends as more celebrations are planned. Astrid Pollers (N-VA), the mayor of Herent, where Swings grew up, announced that the town intends to honour the Olympian.

"We plan to organise a large folk festival in the sports centre that bears his name. It is exceptional what Bart has achieved. We all experienced it on Saturday, so that party will come," Pollers told Radio 2 Flemish Brabant, VRT NWS reported.

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