- Associated Press - Monday, September 10, 2012

LONDON — Royal Air Force jets streaked through the sky above Buckingham Palace, leaving a red, white and blue trail of smoke as gold, silver and bronze medals gleamed below.

For the final extravaganza in an extraordinary summer in London, hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Britons toasted the sporting heroes who have reawakened a recession-hit nation.

A party a decade in the making was coming to an end.

And the athletes could hardly believe it as the parade of floats that had weaved through the cheering streets pulled up in front of Queen Elizabeth II’s residence.

“Every street you passed, you could see the masses disappearing into the horizon — phenomenal,” said six-time Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy. “Eventually it has to come to an end and that’s the hard part. There is a tinge of sadness I will never be able to top this.”

Hoy’s two London golds vaulted Britain to third in the Olympics standings with its biggest haul in 104 years: 29 golds, 17 silvers and 19 bronzes.

“You did rack up more medals than France, didn’t you?” roared London’s maverick Mayor Boris Johnson from the stage in front of Buckingham Palace.

“Yeah!” responded the flag-waving crowd on The Mall.

“And more medals than Germany and more medals than Australia,” Johnson added to cheers. “More medals, my friends per head than virtually any country on earth.”

In a typically eccentric speech, Johnson said the parade that started near St. Paul’s Cathedral had brought the summer’s celebrations to a “final tear sodden juddering climax.”

The poster girl of the home team, heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis, was at the front of the parade of 21 floats.

“Sports lovers were excited by the Olympics, but I think there are a few people that weren’t sure as to how it would pan out,” Ennis said. “But it’s just brought everyone together, and it’s been a whole buzz throughout the country.”

Britain’s summer in the international spotlight began in May with festivities to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and her granddaughter, Zara Phillips, won a silver medal in equestrian at the Olympics.

“Unbelievable, to think that everyone’s come out for all of us,” Phillips said on board a float weaving its way through the streets. “This is like the whole games though … the crowd were unbelievable and we are so grateful to them.”

The two trouble-free games defied initial anxiety about security and inclement weather, projecting a new image of the country to the world

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