HERO cyclist Chris Hoy has had his fair share of memorable moments in the past few weeks.
But the man who became the first Briton to bring home three gold medals for 100 years described the massive victory parade through his home town as one of the best days of his life.
Hoy was joined by silver medal winners – fellow cyclist Ross Edgar, rower Katherine Grainger and canoeist David Florence – on the open-topped bus which made its way down the Royal Mile in front of an estimated 50,000 people.
The Olympians held their medals aloft to supporters who leaned from open windows and threw clothes at the bus in the hope of getting them autographed.
The outpouring of excitement and emotion stunned Hoy, who said he was still coming to terms with the impact his performance had created at home – especially after the much lower-key welcome he received four years ago after winning his first Olympic gold in Athens.
The 32-year-old said of the parade: "It was one of the most memorable experiences of my whole life. I don't say that lightly. I'm overwhelmed by the response from the public to come out and support us. We were here for the parade after Athens and quite a few people turned out but it was on quite a different level. After that I don't think anyone expected this.
"I got quite emotional actually, looking off the front of the bus down the Royal Mile and seeing people all the way down.
"I'd love to say thank you to everybody who turned out and let them know how much it means to me."
He added: "You have to pinch yourself. The surreal thing is that all I've done is win a bike race. It's what I do, it's my job. I've won things before and no-one knows about it. You do the same thing again and you get back home and the whole world knows about it."
Among the cheering supporters were his parents, Carol and David Hoy, who accompanied him to Beijing.
Carol said: "Like every other parent I'm obviously proud as punch – I could win a gold medal as the proudest mum. The highlight of the past few weeks has just been seeing our son achieve his dreams."
David added: "We're looking forward to the next few months – we've got family parties and various receptions coming up.
"From a very early age Chris was always very determined to do the best he could and he's just carried that through. It was lovely to be part of that. It was my hobby taking him to places and it was his hobby to ride the bike, so it's been a good family business."
Also among the crowds following the bus from the Castle to Holyrood Palace was George Florence, 54, father of David, who said: "I'm ecstatic. It's fantastic, I'm so proud of him and of them all. It's fantastic turnout, far more people than I would have expected."
The Florences and the Hoys live close to one another in Murrayfield, and before boarding the bus David Florence joked: "A few years ago I got a phonecall saying 'You've been fantastic, we're entering you for Edinburgh's Sports Personality of the Year and I said 'Don't bother, I wouldn't even win it for my street'."
Lord Provost George Grubb said the turnout had exceeded all expectations.
He said: "Edinburgh has come out in force for Chris Hoy and Scotland's athletes – it has been a staggering success and everyone who came out today had a fantastic time. Many more people came along than we had expected and it was perfect opportunity to welcome the medallists back. I think people will be talking about it for quite a long time.
"The huge turnout at the Royal Mile is a sign of how proud Edinburgh people are of our athletes and of the massive impact that Chris Hoy has made on the global stage."
Some members of the crowd took the opportunity to protest at the planned closure of the Meadowbank velodrome, where Hoy began his career.
Marie MacMillan, 78, a voluntary worker from Leith Links, was waving a "Save Meadowbank" placard. She said: "There are just so many people who have been through there and now they're sportsmen and champions. To waste it now after all that work is dreadful really. They deserve everything, it's lovely to have a nice turnout and for everybody to be so happy and proud."