Big crowds welcome Olympic hero Kristian Thomas

Hundreds of fans of all ages braved torrential rain to give Olympic medallist Kristian Thomas a hero’s welcome when he returned to his gymnastics club.

Hundreds of fans of all ages braved torrential rain to give Olympic medallist Kristian Thomas a hero’s welcome when he returned to his gymnastics club.

The 23-year-old was greeted by loud cheers when he arrived at the special event held in his honour at the Earls Gymnastics Club in Halesowen.

Kristian, from Wednesfield, made history when he helped secure a bronze medal in the Team GB gymnastics squad – the first time British men have done so in a century.

And more than 300 people gathered at the club in Furnace Lane – which was closed to traffic for the occasion – to catch a glimpse of their hero, despite a heavy downpour.

Part of the event had to be moved inside the club because of the bad weather but the rain failed to dampen the spirits and the sun even made an appearance when Kristian arrived.

Among the crowds was the Mayor of Dudley Councillor Melvyn Mottram, along with members from Halesowen’s athletics, cycling and cricket clubs along with Old Halesonians Rugby Club and Halesowen Town FC.

Kristian looked stunned when he saw the crowds waving flags and banners as he turned up wearing his famous Team GB tracksuit.

The former pupil of St Edmund’s School, Compton, Wolverhampton, made a short speech, during which he thanked everyone for their support, before posing for pictures with families and signing autographs.

He said: “This has been absolutely amazing. I didn’t expect anything like this. They kept it all really quiet and just told me to turn up in my tracksuit and bring my medal and a smile.

“I’m so grateful to everyone for making the effort to come out. It’s great to see so many people who are genuinely interested in gymnastics.”

The event at the club, where Kristian has trained two or three times a week since he was five, was organised by chairman John Caulwell.

He said: “We are extremely proud of Kristian’s fantastic achievement; he has worked tirelessly with his personal coach Michelle Bradley to reach the very top of his sport.

“The weather has thrown us into disarray but there is nothing we can do about it. It started out as a humble welcome home but has snowballed because so many people want to pay tribute to Kristian now.”

Among the crowds braving the rain were Nicki Bolton and her children William, six, and eight-year-old Emma, who goes to recreational gymnastics classes at the club. Mrs Bolton, of Quinton, said: “I bet he has made his way through plenty of storms to get to training so the least we can do is come and show our support.

“He is a real inspiration to children like Emma and she wants to end up at the Olympics like him.”

Kristian, along with Louis Smith, Max Whitlock, Daniel Purvis and Sam Oldham, was initially awarded silver at London 2012 but an inquiry into the score of Kohei Uchimura’s pommel horse routine saw Japan claim silver and Britain downgraded to bronze.

The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry led the support at the North Greenwich Arena as Britain won their first Olympic team medal since the bronze at the Stockholm Games in 1912.

Councillor Mottram said: “How Kristian held his nerve and showed such poise and strength is an inspiration to us all. He is a true icon for the Black Country and will be an inspiration for a new generation.

“You can see from the sheer number of people who have turned up that he has had a massive effect.”

The council is currently holding talks with the club after it emerged that it is struggling to meet its £100,000 a year running costs.

The authority says it will try to help the club secure external funding.