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Michael D declines golden opportunity with Katie

IT'S not every day you get the opportunity to wear a shiny medal around your neck, especially if it's an Olympic gold one.

But President Michael D Higgins graciously declined the tantalising offer as he met Ireland's golden girl Katie Taylor and other athletes from Ireland's 2012 Olympic team yesterday.

The President praised the team for doing the country proud as he and his wife Sabina threw open the doors of Aras an Uachtarain to host a reception for the young heroes.

"You're the fittest looking group I've had here," Mr Higgins joked as he spoke of how the athletes had lifted the nation.

Any country that had such talent, skills and genius was well on its way to recovery, he said.

Thirty of the 66 athletes who took part in the London Games attended, including Taylor and bronze medal winners, showjumper Cian O'Connor and boxer Paddy Barnes.

Two other boxers, silver medallist John Joe Nevin and bronze medal winner Michael Conlon are out of the country.

Athletes and Olympic Council officials got their chance to meet the president and his wife in an official receiving line in the State drawing room, among them Olympic Council of Ireland Pat Hickey and chef de mission Sonia O'Sullivan.

One of the highlights was the encounter between President Higgins and Bray boxer Taylor who was ushered in along with her dad and coach, Peter.

"It's so wonderful you are here," the president told Katie as they posed for photographs.

But it was when the Olympic champion offered to drape the medal around the President's neck that Mr Higgins balked at the opportunity.

No doubt believing that only those who had earned the right to wear it should do so, he politely replied, "no, no really".

Mr Taylor told the Irish Independent that Katie (26) had taken time out to decide her future after her Olympic glory and would make a decision about whether to go professional in the next week or two.

While professional boxing was "big" in Germany and the US, Mr Taylor said Bray would continue to be Katie's base, regardless of where she boxed.

Yesterday's gathering was also attended by 50km race walker Rob Heffernan who earlier this week tweeted that he was "gutted" he and his wife, Marian, would not be able to go because they were "not allowed bring the kids". But any fears of missing out were swept away as the couple joined the other athletes along with their children Cathal (7) and Megan (9).

After yesterday's reception in which the family got to meet President and Mrs Higgins, he tweeted: "Great day today in the Aras. Brilliant to catch up with everyone. Honoured to meet the president and the kids had a fantastic experience."

Irish Independent