On 2 August 2012, Gold Medal Olympic hero Etienne Stott took just two minutes to paddle to glory at the Lea Valley Aquatic Centre and a place in history. But it took a little longer on a September weekend for him to travel on an open-top bus in a victory parade through the streets of Bedford lined with ecstatic crowds that, as he said, “Just take your breath away”. And among the bus top audience making more noise than the rest were Cub Scouts from St Andrew’s Scout Group who were in at the start of Eti’s amazing water-filled career twenty years ago.
Gold Medallist Etienne Stott was joined by Paralympic sitting volleyball players Julie Rogers and Jessica Frezza as the trio rode atop the special bus. They were cheered on by the hundreds of people who flocked to Bedford town centre. Etienne, 33, from Putnoe, was kept busy waving to crowds, posing for photographs with all and sundry, and signing autographs for fans young and old. Scouts from his old group, St Andrew’s, were with him all the way to the side of the river Great Ouse where he unveiled a plaque at Duck Mill Weir which has been renamed the Etienne Stott White Water Arena in his honour. Mayor Dave Hodgson said,
“Etienne ranks alongside those other great Bedfordians, Paula Radcliffe and Harold Abrahams, in bringing Olympic glory to the town. This special plaque will be a lasting reminder to everyone of a truly great year.”
The champion, who won gold in the canoe slalom on a memorable day in August, said,
“I want to say thank you to everyone for coming. It’s great back in Bedford as this is where it all started. I used to spend many hours here mucking around with my friends.
“It has been wonderful. Everyone has been so friendly and it is great that I get to speak to all these kids who have come out to support the Olympics. I also want to say how much I owe to the Scouts who started me off on this crazy white water ride.
“If I can win gold, anyone can. It’s not just for people who want to go into sport. It’s about achieving life goals and challenging yourself to be better in any walk of life.”
As he chatted, the river below was crowded with Etienne Stott look-a-likes in their kayaks, Eti said,
“This feeling is unbelievable. To come here and see all these people on the water at my home club is fantastic.”
Etienne was joined on the Olympic tour bus by family and friends including girlfriend Georgie Preston. Georgie said,
“It is things like this that Etienne loves, particularly when he can share his success with people. I think his favourite moment of the Games was the parade through London afterwards and the number of people who turned up. We are going on holiday tomorrow, the first break we’ve had together in four years!”
Eti’s mum, Suzane added,
“I am very proud of him. It’s very exciting to have this parade. It has been crazy since he won. We keep getting all these letters from people to our house congratulating the ‘gold medallist’. He is just the same boy to me, though. He hasn’t changed and I don’t think he will let it go to his head.”