London 2012: GB Olympic athletes praise home support

By Sam SheringhamBBC Sport at the Olympic Park

British athletes competing on the first day of London 2012 paid tribute to the thousands of supporters who cheered them on.

"The crowd were ludicrous," said GB rower Richard Chambers after helping the lightweight men's four win their heat at Eton Dorney on Saturday.

"I've never felt anything like it. The public supporting us makes us quicker."

GB table-tennis player Joanna Parker added: "I've never played in this type of atmosphere before. I'm speechless."

UK Sport set Team GB a modest target of at least 48 medals for the London Olympics, just one more than they achieved at the 2008 Games.

But a panel of experts convened by BBC Radio 5 live predicted that the team could win as many as 95 medals, partly due to the boost of performing in front of their own fans.

Parker was speaking after winning her first-round match at the ExCel arena, one of 16 venues to see action on the opening day of the Games.

There was a similar patriotic fervour in the Aquatics Centre where British competitors were greeted with deafening screams for the opening round of swimming heats.

"All I could hear was the crowd going haywire," said Fran Halsall, after qualifying for the semi-finals of the 100m butterfly.

"They tried to quieten them down and everyone was still shouting. It really made me smile and relax."

Her fellow swimmer Jess Lloyd was also amazed by the response to her appearance for the 4x100m freestyle heats, despite the fact hundreds of seats in the 17,500 venue were not filled.

"We walked out there and there was this massive scream," she said. "I sat out there and I could barely breathe. The experience was just amazing."

Even in defeat, British competitors were keen to pay tribute to the spectators along the route.

"I've never experienced that before," said GB volleyball captain Lynne Beattie following her side's 3-0 loss to Russia in their opening pool match at Earls Court.

"I've played abroad in front of other crowds, but to play at home and lead out my team in front of 15,000 people is the highlight of my career so far."

And after the disappointment of missing out on a medal in the men's road race, Mark Cavendish still found time to praise the thousands who turned out to watch him on the 250km course.

"I'm proud of my team and I'm proud of my country for the support we had," he said.