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Cross country: Putin inspires Russians to relay silver

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Sports Minister Vitali Mutko (L) watch the cross country skiing men's relay during the Sochi 2014 O
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Sports Minister Vitali Mutko (L) watch the cross country skiing men's relay during the Sochi 2014 O

By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Russia, watched by President Vladimir Putin, claimed their first cross-country skiing medal of the Sochi Olympics when they took silver in the men's 4x10km relay on Sunday.

Dmitriy Japarov, Alexander Bessmertnykh, Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin brought their country its first medal in the history of the event, finishing 27.3 seconds behind Sweden.

"My ski's were playing up today," Japarov, who led the Russians off, told reporters.

"There was no problem with the waxing but there was something wrong with the structure of the skis. On the third lap, I stated to ski a lot slower than on the first two. Maybe my skis had picked up some dirt. It is a shame to lose to something that was out of my control."

Bessmertnykh did not blame his equipment.

"My skis were fine but I did not have enough strength", the 27-year-old said.

"I immediately went ahead and took a number of the chasing pack with me. I did not have any other alternative. If I had sat on someone's shoulder, then I would have been over two minutes behind the leaders.

Putin was watching on from the stands.

"No one told us that the president would be attending," Bessmertnykh said.

"When I had finished my leg, I looked up at the big screen and saw Putin. Of course it is very nice that the President of the Russian Federation wanted to watch our event. I want to say a big thank you to him."

The President of the Russian Cross-Country Skiing Federation, Elena Vyalbe, kissed and hugged Legkov At the finish having previously questioned the 30-year-old's ability to perform for the team.

"Today I showed Vyalbe that I can fight for the relay team," said Legkov who skied the third leg.

"If I am being honest, I have only performed badly in one relay in my career, which was at the world championships in Oslo and I was completing despite being ill."

Vyalbe said Legkov had proved himself.

"I get annoyed with him, not because we do not get on," she said. "I just know what he is capable of doing. I think today's medal will help him to compete in the marathon."

Vylegzhanin completed the final leg.

"When it was my turn to ski, I really wanted to try and help us win the gold medal", the 31 year-old said.

"I started off at a very fast pace. I cannot really say that I enjoy skiing the anchor leg especially in freestyle. But I tried. Now I am happy and will compete in the remaining races with renewed confidence."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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