Thirty-three miners rescued after more than two months trapped underground were given a heroes' welcome at the national palace Monday by President Sebastian Pinera, who embraced the men just as he did when they emerged one by one from the depths.
Clad in dark suits and some wearing the rock-star sunglasses they donned during the rescue to protect their eyes aboveground, the miners received flags, medals commemorating Chile's bicentennial and miniature replicas of the narrow, tubular capsule in which they were hauled to safety.
"The job was hard. They were days of great pain and sorrow," said Luis Urzua, who was shift boss at the time of the tunnel collapse and continued to lead the miners as they cleared rock to help in their own rescue.
The men then emerged to wave to a cheering crowd gathered outside La Moneda palace in the capital, Santiago. Many had their photographs taken in front of the Phoenix 2 rescue capsule, which is on display there until its permanent home is decided.
Six rescuers who descended through the narrow escape shaft to prepare the men for the ascent were also commended.
Later the miners donned white jerseys emblazoned with the Chilean flag for a friendly football match in the National Stadium against a team made up of Pinera, other government officials and rescuers.
Two weeks after being rescued, the men seemed energetic on the field and showed no apparent ill effects from the ordeal.
Franklin Lobos, a 53-year-old former professional football player who was among those trapped in the mine, was the first to find the net, followed by fellow miner Raul Bustos.
A goal from Pinera began a comeback by the presidential side, which won 3-2.
The men were buried some 2,300 feet (700 meters) below the surface in the San Jose mine by the Aug. 5 collapse, and the 69 days they spent before the rescue is the longest anyone has been trapped underground and lived.
Pinera, a conservative billionaire who took office earlier this year, said in his speech that the government will soon announce new labor rules for all workers _ not only miners.
"Never again will we leave a single Chilean behind," the president said.
He also praised the courage of the miners' families, who lived in an improvised tent camp in the remote Atacama desert while waiting for their loved ones to be saved.
"I told my wife that if she loved me half as much as you love your husbands, I would consider myself the happiest man in the world," Pinera said during the ceremony, to laughter among the 200 invited guests.