Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Swimming - Women's 4 x 100m Medley Relay - Medal Ceremony - Tokyo Aquatics Centre - Tokyo, Japan - August 1, 2021. Cate Campbell, Emma McKeon, Chelsea Hodges and Kaylee McKeown of Australia react with their gold medals and bouquets REUTERS/Carl Recine/File Photo
Australia's Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman hailed his team's record-equalling performance at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, wiping tears from his eyes as he spoke of its impact on people back home - a nation largely in COVID-19 lockdown.
The Australian team had won 17 gold medals heading into the final day of action in Tokyo, matching their previous best haul from the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Chesterman said the unique circumstances of the first Olympics held during a global pandemic would make their achievements even more memorable.
"I believe Australia will remember this team for decades to come," he told a news conference.
"They've made a real connection with people back home. It's been such a tough time in so many communities and the athletes have been so conscious of that over here.
"Their performances and the way they've conducted themselves on and off the field has been superb. The Australians have taken these athletes to their hearts."
After disappointing medal hauls at London 2012 and Rio 2016, Australia kick-started their Tokyo campaign in the swimming.
They won a record nine golds and 20 medals overall in the pool with Emma McKeon becoming the first woman swimmer to win seven medals in a single Games.
More gold medals followed in canoeing, kayaking, sailing and rowing, while Keegan Palmer won the nation's first Olympic title in skateboarding.
After thanking host nation Japan for pulling off the "impossible", Chesterman spoke movingly of what the 486 athletes had endured with the strict health protocols in force in Tokyo.
"It's been a pretty tough Games, I've got to say," he said when asked to explain his emotional state. "And everything we set out to achieve, we did.
He said the team was "very aware" of how the Games had cheered up people in lockdown in Australia.
"We've all got our own families at home, and we've seen the impact this has had on them," Chesterman added.
Brushing aside a question about the misbehaviour of some Australian athletes, Chesterman said his priority had been to allow the athletes to fulfil their dreams and then to get them safely back to their families.
"It's a huge relief," he said. "It's a big campaign, it's just important that we get them home, and we will."
Editing by Himani Sarkar
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