Putin praises Russian Paralympians after Siberian showpiece ends
Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised his country's Paralympians following their overall victory at the We Are Together. Sport event, held in Khanty-Mansiysk to allow athletes barred from the Beijing Winter Paralympic Games to compete.
Athletes from Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Armenia and Kazakhstan took part in the special event at the Siberian sporting center, where the hosts won 39 gold, 40 silver and 27 bronze medals.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) initially ruled that competitors from Russia and Belarus could compete under neutral flags at the Games earlier this month.
The decision was reversed a day before the competition started, meaning many members of the Russian Paralympic Committee made a wasted trip to Beijing.
In an official order, Putin thanked the athletes "for their contribution to the development of physical culture and sports."
The head of state has criticized the IPC's decision, which was influenced by the International Olympic Committee encouraging sporting organizations not to allow athletes from the two nations to compete.
Federations have also been advised to pull scheduled events from Russia, while groups such as football governing bodies FIFA and UEFA have suspended Russian teams from taking part in their competitions.
"The height of cynicism was the removal of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Paralympics in Beijing," Putin said last week.
"It was not just innocent athletes who suffered, but Paralympic athletes – people who did not break down but overcame the most difficult life trials, worthy of all possible support and admiration.
"[They are] those who, by their example, give hope to millions, make them believe in themselves and in their strength."
Tass reported that the closing ceremony for the event in Siberia, which was organized in a week, took place in a concert hall.
Cross-country skier Aleksandr Pronkov, who was one of the stars to be given a hero's welcome upon their return to Russia from China, won two gold medals to add to the men's 10km freestyle title he took at the Games in Sochi in 2014.
Pronkov called his wins "the results of long, purposeful and fruitful work" and was astonished by the level of organization at the event.
"Many foreign countries can only envy the level and speed of organizing such competitions," he added.
Biathlon, snowboarding, wheelchair curling and sledge hockey were among the other sports at a showpiece designed to cover the Paralympic disciplines.