School children, family and dignitaries ensure the athletes get a reception to remember Crowds of flag-waving children from five schools cheered the triumphant return of Hong Kong's Special Olympics team upon their arrival from Dublin yesterday. In the liveliest scene Chek Lap Kok has witnessed since before the Sars outbreak, the athletes walked through the airport to a heroes' welcome, waving their medals - 31 gold, 13 silver and six bronze - in the air. The 22 athletes looked tired but happy after their 12-hour flight from London. 'It's been a long time together; we know each other very well by now,' said weary team manager Fay Ho Kim-fai. They were soon marshalled into neat rows, fronted by a line of dignitaries. These included Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping, Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Shelley Lee Lai-kuen and Director of Leisure and Cultural Services Anissa Wong Sean-yee. Hong Kong's Special Olympics committee chairman, David Ip Siu-wo, congratulated the athletes on doing Hong Kong proud by winning so many medals, and also thanked the various government departments who backed their successful bid to get to Dublin. Mr Ip expressed his gratitude to the Macau government for its generous help in accommodating the team for 10 days at short notice, making it possible for the athletes to comply with the Irish government's Sars restrictions. Special mention also went to the athletes' parents, for their understanding. 'Prior to the Sars issue, we did not expect the athletes to be away from home for so long - 23 days instead of 13,' Mr Ip said. Last on the appreciation list - but obviously not least - were the 22 athletes who had been left behind. 'We will try to take them overseas this year to make up for their disappointment at not going to Dublin,' Mr Ip said to rousing cheers. The schools who turned out to form the welcoming party were Wan Ho Kan Primary School from Tung Chung, Hong Chi Morning Hill School from Tsim Lam and Tuen Mun, Mary Rose School, Kowloon Tong, and Sha Tin Public School. Lo Kin-yu, 16, from Hong Chi Morning Hill School, had waited patiently with souvenirs she had made for her two schoolmates returning from Ireland. 'It's great for them even to come to the airport. For many of them it's the first time they have come here,' said headmistress Yvonne Ching. 'Special Olympics is a great chance [for those with learning difficulties] to be a part of team sports and do their best. But it's not winning that counts, it's the chance to face failure. That is very important and character building,' Ms Ching said. 'Take Lo Kin-yu, a bowler, who was left behind. After counselling by teachers and social workers she accepted she could not go. That's just as important as the happiness gained from winning medals.' Ms Ching gave another example of Dublin gold and silver bowling medal winner Yeung Chi-ka, 14. When she competed in Japan last year she lost her temper when she did not win. 'She got counselling and learned that controlling your emotions is as important as medals. This time she won in Dublin.' Sha Tin Public School principal Laura Ling, who is also deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Special Olympics committee, said the event had been unforgettable, especially the opening ceremony. 'It was fantastic and I feel so proud of my athletes,' she said. 'They have achieved victory, experience and exposure, and learned how to take care of themselves. They were excellent.'