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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear friends, it is a great pleasure to see you here in the Kremlin and be able to congratulate you personally on your outstanding performance at the X Winter Paralympic Games.
Not only did you repeat the Russian team’s success at the Turin Games, but you came top of the medal table and improved on the result we obtained at the last games. Of course, it made us all very happy indeed to watch your performance and support you, all the more so as the Olympics, which took place just before, left us with mixed emotions. At the Paralympics the emotions were all positive. You really did an excellent job and it is really a pleasure to say this once more today.
I know that after the last games you immediately started training for the next competitions, and I know that many of you here today performed impressively at the world cross country skiing and biathlon championships in Finland. You were in peak form for the competition in Vancouver, and this is reflected in your results. You were all striving for victory and won three gold medals right on the first day of competition.
Once again, I congratulate you all sincerely and thank you on behalf of all your supporters and all the citizens of our big country.
I want to say a few words about our heroes. As always in these situations, I cannot mention everyone’s names, but I want to mention those who particularly distinguished themselves. A special mention goes, of course, to the main hero of these Paralympics – Irek Zaripov, who won four gold medals and one silver in biathlon and cross country skiing. This is a record for Russian athletes at the Paralympics. Kirill Mikhailov won three gold medals, and Anna Burmistrova and Sergei Shilov each won two gold medals. Of course, none of us can forget the brilliant achievement of our skiers, who took all honours and left their rivals not the slightest chance.
If I am correct, it is Kirill’s birthday today, and so let’s congratulate him on this event. (Applause).
Long and hard training, determination and endurance are all important components of success, but they are not the only factors. I therefore want to thank, on your behalf too, I hope, the wonderful team of coaches and specialists who worked with our paralympians, helping them to cope with the load and supporting them during the difficult moments.
As we know, the mission of the International Paralympic Committee is “To Enable Paralympic Athletes to Achieve Sporting Excellence and Inspire and Excite the World”. Indeed, millions of people around the world and in our country have felt precisely this excitement and inspiration.
We need to think about the future. Training is an important aspect, of course, but proper training requires material measures too. We have already made some progress in this area, but there is still more work ahead and we will continue to improve the material support measures we provide. I note that since January 1, 2009, 450 paralympians have been receiving presidential grants, and the payments made to medal winners at the Paralympics have been raised to the same level as those our Olympic medal winners receive. But we cannot stop here. We will continue to build sports facilities for our paralympic athletes, for people with disabilities, develop special sports infrastructure, establish special training centres and set up rehabilitation centres. To be honest, the situation in our country is still rather lamentable in this area and we lag behind other countries. But it is not enough to just note the state of affairs. We need to actually get to work on building these centres and developing this kind of infrastructure in general.
Of course, we also need to provide our paralympians with the modern equipment they need and build new sports schools for children with disabilities. This was one of the subjects we discussed at a recent meeting of the council for sports and organisation of the Sochi Olympics.
Our country will host the Winter Paralympic Games in 2014. We need to ensure that Sochi provides people with disabilities full and free access to all of the Olympic events, to all of the sports and recreation facilities. In other words, we need to ensure not just a normal barrier-free environment, but also a normal sports environment. This will set new accessibility standards that will serve as an example for the whole country, where, as I said, we still have a long way to go in this respect.
But I hope, nonetheless, that all of you here, and our other friends, will demonstrate not just in Sochi, but also in London, what we look for in sport and hope for from you, as outstanding athletes.
Once again, I want to say that the triumph of our Paralympic team in Vancouver shows that there is no limit to human ability. The lives of each of you are examples of the skill, courage and determination without which no sports achievements would be possible.
Once more, on behalf of our country, I thank you for your marvellous achievements and wish you future sporting victories.
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Today, the atmosphere and emotions in this hall are very positive. I can see that you are very happy to be receiving the state decorations that you earned. And I won’t hide the fact that it is a real pleasure for me to be awarding them. Naturally, our lives are not defined by the awards we receive, but they are nevertheless a quintessential element of your personal success. And after all, when you personally succeed, our nation succeeds. You knew this, and after receiving these decorations, you will be even more aware of it. You will know that we were really rooting for you and that we love you for what you’ve done. Great job!
Naturally, we also need to prepare for future competitions and the next Olympic games. We will need to resolve all the infrastructural challenges that I mentioned. Incidentally, we will also need to set up a full-fledged system for broadcasting Paralympic events. I was able to watch the games, but I have satellite television, where it was shown 24 hours per day. And those who do not have satellite TV had problems with that. Then again, they say that we will have digital television nearly everywhere by 2014, so I hope that this will not be a problem.
I would like to once again sincerely congratulate you in the name of all our citizens. Thank you!