Hundreds of eager fans gathered at Vancouver's international airport Monday as Canadian Olympic athletes — including soccer star and bronze medallist Christine Sinclair — returned home.

Sinclair, 29, was the flag-bearer for the Canadian team at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics on Sunday. She led the Canadian women's soccer team to a bronze medal — the first podium placing for Canada in a Summer Games traditional team sport since 1936.

Sinclair —who arrived to fans shouting, "We love you Christine!" — said the welcome at the airport was overwhelming.

"Being in England, we didn't understand what had happened back here and they're like, 'Just wait, just wait until you see when you get home.' But I don't think any of us expected this."

The Burnaby, B.C., native scored an Olympic-record six goals in the women's soccer tournament, including a hat trick in Canada's 4-3 extra-time loss to the United States in the semifinals.

Sinclair said she's hopeful the win will help elevate the profile of women's soccer.

"I think this has the potential to be huge," she said. "Seeing this support, I'm hoping everything just explodes from this.

Sinclair will also collect $5,000 for the bronze medal hanging around her neck — part of Canada's Own the Podium initiative to pay athletes for each medal they win.

'It's so inspiring'

Richard Weinberger of Victoria, who won the bronze in the men's open-water 10K swimming event, expressed gratitude to those who greeted athletes.

"It's so inspiring," he said. "It doesn't just motivate us and make us want to go back to the drawing board and to race, but it inspires the younger athletes who are growing up in Canada. And I think this is awesome. Thank you."

The fans, meanwhile, said it was the least they could do to welcome the athletes home.

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Christine Sinclair captained the Canadian women's soccer team to a bronze medal — the first podium placing for Canada in a Summer Games traditional team sport since 1936 (Neil Davidson/The Canadian Press)

"We're big soccer fans and Christine Sinclair is local and she’s kind of like the perfect Canadian athlete," said fan Shawna Daly. She’s really down to earth, and she’s always been there."

Jackie von Schulmann says the colour of the medals returning to Canada doesn't matter.

"We came here to greet any of the athletes who are coming in today but especially Christine Sinclair. We’re really excited to greet her and we’re really proud of their accomplishments at the Olympics," she said.

"I think we should be proud ... [Our sign says] 'Bronze on the podium, gold in our hearts,' which is really true. I think they really inspired a lot of young girls ... and I think we did fairly well."