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Saladino hailed as Panama's hero at homecoming
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Panamanians Thursday welcomed home their national hero Irving Saladino, who won the country's first Olympic gold medal.

Irving Saladino became on Monday evening the national hero for Panama by winning his country's first Olympic gold medal.

Irving Jahir Saladino Aranda of Panama competes during the men's long jump final at the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, during Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, Aug. 18, 2008. Irving Jahir Saladino Aranda won the gold. [Xinhua Photo]

"As I have always said, this medal is yours," Saladino said to his Panamanian compatriots.

During a ceremony at the Panama Canal Administration building, Saladino received a check of 50,000 U.S. dollars from Panamanian President Martin Torrijos. He also gave the President a medal with diamonds.

"Irving, in honor to your greatness and achievements which we Panamanians consider as ours, we will name the Sports City after you," Torrijos said.

Saladino won a gold medal in long jump with 8.34m on Aug.18 at the Beijing Olympic Games. The silver and the bronze medal went to South Africa and Cuba.

It has been 60 years since Panama's last glory in the Olympic Games. In 1948 London Olympiad, sprinter Lloyd LaBeach won two bronze medals in the 100m and 200m, the only two medals in Panamanian Olympic history.

President Torrijos gave a-day holiday on Thursday to those in public offices and schools, so that they could attend the welcoming ceremony.

With hands up in a sign of victory, Saladino was greeted by hundreds of Panamanians who gathered in Panama City.

"It is worthwhile to keep on the efforts because Panama deserves it," Saladino said, pledging to seek more triumphs for his country.

During the ceremony, Saladino was moved to tears when Panamanian Tourism Minister Ruben Blades, also a singer, sang the classic song "Patria" (Homeland) to him.

(Xinhua News Agency August 22, 2008)

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