TORONTO - There were hugs, cheers and even some tears as a number of Canadian Olympians stepped back onto home soil Monday after an exhilarating two weeks of competition at the Sochi Games.
Medallists Dara Howell and Mike Riddle were among the athletes greeted by a wave of applause and a wall of flashing cameras as they arrived at Pearson International Airport.
Howell, who won gold in women's slopestyle skiing in the sport's Olympic debut, said it felt wonderful to be home.
"I'm so excited to be back here," she said while sporting her medal around her neck — one 25 medals and 10 gold won by Canadian athletes. "Overall it was such a great experience and Canada did amazing."
The 19-year-old said her thrilling time in Sochi, Russia marked only the beginning of her career.
"This is just the start for me," she said. "I just want to keep going and having as much fun as possible. We'll see where I end up."
The Huntsville, Ont., native was met by her parents, grandparents and various other family members, many of whom were hoisting congratulatory signs.
"I think the tears could start quite soon," Howell said while looking over at her waiting family. "They supported me from the start and I'm so happy that they're here."
Howell's parents said their daughter deserved every bit of praise that was being sent her way.
"She wanted this," said father Doug Howell. "She worked for four years to get to this point, so it's awesome."
Grandfather Ken Raven said watching Dara Howell compete had been a nerve-wracking but incredibly exciting experience.
"It was just total bedlam at the ski club," he said. "But she's doing well, she worked hard and she's earned it."
Raven said he was now looking forward to spending some quality time on the ski hill with his medal-winning granddaughter.
"She skis with her grandfather every two or three runs and then she goes off with the rest of the kids," he said with a chuckle. "I'm just so proud of her."
Meanwhile Riddle, who won the silver medal in the men's ski halfpipe, was overwhelmed by the throng of media and onlookers waiting to greet returning athletes.
"I was not expecting such a big welcoming party," said Riddle, who was heading on to Vancouver. "It's been a long trip and to come home to fans and Canadians and see all this is pretty cool."
The native of Sherwood Park, Alta., said the Winter Games had been a great experience, but its completion had brought a degree of relief.
"It's been such a long time coming and building up to it — to be done, it takes a weight off my shoulders," he said. "Especially having done well I can just have no regrets and I'm feeling really, really good moving forward."
Riddle said he planned to spend some time skiing in Whistler, B.C., before heading back to Europe in mid-March for more competitive events.
"I'm going to keep skiing and keep doing my best."
Follow @dianamehta on Twitter.