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Phelps honored by Baltimore with parade and salute

Oct. 04, 2008, 7:46 p.m. (ET)

BALTIMORE(AP) Michael Phelps was formally welcomed home Saturday with a two-pronged celebration that began with a parade and ended with a fireworks show at historic Fort McHenry.

Phelps was the focal point of the ``Parade of Gold'', which served as a homecoming for Maryland's Olympic heroes, most notably the swimmer who won a record-setting eight gold medals at the Beijing Games this summer.

An estimated 5,000 people lined the streets of Towson for the parade, according to Baltimore County police.

The festivities then moved to Fort McHenry, birthplace of ``The Star-Spangled Banner.'' Wearing a dress shirt, sports jacket and jeans, Phelps walked onto the makeshift stage to cheers from thousands of people, many of whom arrived several hours before the event.

``There's no better place to be than right here in Baltimore!'' he told the crowd.

The ``Star-Spangled Salute'' started with a recap of Phelps' performance in China and featured a speeches by Gov. Martin O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. It also included a visit from Phelps' mother, Debbie, who received a big hug from her son.

The ceremony concluded with a fireworks above Baltimore's harbor.

At the parade, Phelps wore sunglasses, jeans, a T-shirt and a brightly colored jacket. He waved to admiring fans from within an open-air military vehicle on a gorgeous autumn afternoon. Those in attendance waited months to pay homage to the Baltimore native, whose haul in China raised to 14 his career gold medals.

Lining the 1 1/2-mile route, many onlookers held red, white, and blue signs. Participants in the parade passed under large American flag strung between the ladders of two fire trucks.

Caroline Dill, 13, was in position with four friends more than three hours before the parade began.

``He's an amazing person because he won eight gold medals and beat Mark Spitz's record,'' Dill said of Phelps. ``Plus, he's from here.''

The parade also honored swimmer Katie Hoff - who won three medals at Beijing Games - and Special Olympians and Paralympians.

The city staged a parade for Phelps after the 2004 Games. After his amazing performance in Beijing, the city arranged a two-part affair, at a cost estimated to be $300,000, in anticipation of far bigger crowds this time around.

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