Olympic stars Amy Williams, Jonathan Edwards and Colin Jackson believed Stoke-on-Trent deserves the award of European City of Sport.
The trio were among 3,000 people who descended on Northwood Stadium to mark the opening ceremony.
Around 700 performers from community groups in the city were at the launch, withguest appearances from sporting heroes, and representatives from across Europe.
Williams, Edwards and Jackson all took time out to speak to StaffsLive during the launch.
Williams, Winter Olympic skeleton racer gold medallist, said: “Stoke has some great facilities, you’ve got all your parks you’ve got your canals.
“It seems like you’ve got a really positive attitude towards sport.
“I’m guessing that’s why you’ve been awarded this and I think my facts are right: you’re the first Great British city to have win in three years.”
Jackson, the 60m hurdles world record holder, said: “They’ve worked very hard, Stoke as a whole – the councils, the universities.
“The people who’ve been involved with it have worked really hard to get the occasion here and make it work and to get people to believe in it.
“Once you’ve got people to believe there’s a real starting point and everybody’s pushing in the same direction.
“So that for me is why you’ve got it and why it’s a deserved reward.”
Triple jump world record holder Edwards said: “For me, sport has always been a central part of my life and I’ve done it because I’ve enjoyed it, but then I look back at what it’s given me and the lessons it’s taught me, the inner resilience it’s given me.
“It’s given me a lot of benefits, so I can understand how important it can be for your life.
“I think to have something like the European City of Sport designation for Stoke is a great honour and it’s a great opportunity to be able to support the city council in its efforts to make the most of this year.”
Among the crowds at the launch was Richard Capper, 47, from Trentham, who said: “It’s great for the city and hopefully we can move on and bring sport alive.”
Alison Ratcliffe, 26, from Hanley, said: “It was really good and the fireworks were amazing.
“It’s going to get a lot of people interested in sport.”
Richard Rodgers, 44, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, said: “It was brilliant and fair play to the people that contributed.
“It’s inspiring; I enjoy sport and I brought my daughter because I want her to be the same.
“It’s nice to see the city come together.”
The launch ended with a spectacular firework finale by the company behind the displays for the Rugby World Cup 2015 opening and closing ceremonies at Twickenham Stadium, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and the London New Year’s Eve display.
Since Stoke-on-Trent was announced as the UK’s European City of Sport 2016 last year, the city council has spent £3.5million to deliver a programme of activity not only throughout 2016, but to help create a legacy for the city.
This includes raising the profile of the city, supporting businesses and the local economy, and promoting pride in the city through positivity and raised aspirations.
Events and activities for the year are being finalised, and details will be released in the next few weeks, including a mass participation road race, a mass participation cycling Sportive, the Lord Mayor’s Games involving schools and families in multi-sport events, a European dragon boat cup and a European netball cup.
Discounted or free use of facilities and sessions at city sport and leisure centres will also be available.
The title was handed out by ACES Europe, a not-for-profit group based in Brussels.
See more from Williams, Jackson and Edwards, below
(Additional reporting by Tony Costin)