Townley Haas returns to RVA with Olympic gold

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WTVR - At first glance, he looked like any other college kid getting off a plane with his hat on backwards and a backpack clinging behind him.

But this wasn't just any other college kid, and his backpack wasn't carrying books or a laptop. Townley Haas had just stepped off the final leg of his flight from Rio to Richmond, wearing a "USA" t-shirt and carrying his gold medal from being part of the winning 4x200 meter freestyle relay team.

A crowd of about 75 family and friends greeted him in the atrium at RIC airport, chanting "U-S-A" and waiting to express the pride and happiness they've been feeling since he won last week.

"My mom told me some people were coming (to meet him at the airport)," Haas said. "She said 'some people'. This is not 'some people'! I was a little bit surprised but it's awesome."

Admitting his life has changed quite a bit since his victory, noting the group of media that also greeted him at the airport, Haas still wasn't sure how he would be treated when he goes back to the University of Texas next week to begin his sophomore year. But, he did have an idea of the support and interest he was getting back home while in Rio.

Townley Haas returns home with gold.

Townley Haas returns home with gold.

"I would get Facebook notifications and texts and stuff like that," Haas said. "It's just been incredible to have that support behind you."

"It's really indescribable as far as what he's been able to do as a swimmer and as a person," said longtime Haas friend Logan Harvey. "We've seen him from a young age him being successful. He's always been a humble guy. We couldn't be any more proud to have him as one of our own."

Haas described the moment on the podium, hearing the national anthem at the medal ceremony as one of his favorite memories of these Olympics. He was also proud to be there for the final swim of Michael Phelps' career and added that the most decorated Olympian in history was a huge help to him during his first Games.

"He was super-supportive and really nice," Haas said. "They're (Phelps and Ryan Lochte) incredibly knowledgeable about swimming and will always help you if you need it or just want to ask them something. Phelps' last swim was pretty amazing to watch. That was awesome to be able to be there for that."