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Russia Rewards Vancouver Medalists But Warns Officials

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (center) poses with Russian Olympians after an awards ceremony in the Kremlin on March 15.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's newest Olympic medalists have received state medals, while sports officials were given a fresh warning they could be sacked after the country's worst-ever showing at a Winter Games last month.

In a televised Kremlin ceremony followed by champagne toasts and tea, President Dmitry Medvedev decorated the 22 Russian athletes who brought medals home from Vancouver.

"Well done! You achieved victory in very difficult conditions," Medvedev said.

Among the medals Medvedev awarded were Orders of Service to Fatherland, First Degree, for biathlete Ivan Cherezov, speedskater Ivan Skobrev, and figure skater Yevgeny Plushenko.

"Your victories are in no way damaged by corrosion," Medvedev told the medalists. "They're not linked with the organization of preparations or any of our shortcomings, for which sports bosses must bear responsibility."

Sports officials were conspicuously absent from the ceremony in an ornate Kremlin reception room.

Russia won only 15 medals in Vancouver, three of them gold, and fell short of the podium in men's ice hockey and pairs figure skating -- events Russian and Soviet athletes often dominated in the past.

The Kremlin has stressed Russia must do much better when it hosts the next Winter Games in Sochi in 2014.

Two weeks ago, Medvedev said leading Russian sports officials should quit or face dismissal. But he did not name any, and the only top official who has promised to step down is the president of Russia's Olympic Committee, Leonid Tyagachyov.

Medvedev suggested on March 14 that dismissals -- likely of top officials in the federations responsible for individual sports -- will come after he convenes a presidential sports council in the near future.

"Certain decisions will follow. They will first of all involve the federations," Medvedev said.

Plushenko, who came out of retirement and won a silver medal that he and many other Russians thought should have been a gold, told Medvedev that the country's Figure Skating Federation had been little help, Interfax news agency reported.

"I returned to sport and wanted to win a medal for Russia, but unfortunately the Figure Skating Federation did not respond and did not support my coach, my choreographer or me personally -- financially and materially," Interfax quoted him as saying.