By Duncan Mackay
British Sports Internet Writer of the Year

Sochi_2014_mascotsFebruary 26 - Sochi 2014 tonight chose three mascots for the Winter Olympics as Father Frost, one of the favourites, was withdrawn because of fears over who would own his rights.

A snow leopard, a polar bear and a hare were announced by Dmitry Chernyshenko, the President and chief executive of Sochi 2014, following the results of a public vote during the live television show "Talismaniya Sochi 2014 - The Final" on Channel One broadcast in Russia tonight.

The snow leopard, the personal favourite of Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, collected 28 per cent of votes among the ten shortlisted candidates but Chernyshenko announced the decision to chose all three animals as official mascots.

The polar bear was in second place with 18 per cent of the vote and the hare in third with 16 per cent.

"Today, the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games have adopted its own symbols and, for the first time in the history of the Olympic Movement, the whole country was involved in choosing the mascots," said Chernyshenko.

"There are three mascots for the Olympic Winter Games, representing the three places on the Olympic podium.

"All top-three characters according to the Olympic system will become the Olympic Winter Games mascots.

"The mascots are the choice of the whole our country and will remain in the history of the Olympic Movement."

Before the vote, Putin said he favoured the big cat because "the leopard is big, strong, fast and beautiful.

"If the Olympic project restores at least one segment of nature that was lost due to human activities, it will be symbolic."

In a video shown before the vote the snow leopard is shown trying to protect a village from an avalanche.

Then he undergoes a regime of balance and strength exercises reminiscent of Putin's affection for martial arts.

In 2009 Putin had supervised the release of two snow leopards that had been imported from Turkmenistan into a wildlife sanctuary near Sochi, fulfilling a pledge he made before Russia won the right to host the Games.

Putin had promised to reintroduce the big cats to the Caucasus if Russia were awarded the Games, which they were in July 2007.

Snow leopards are extinct in the Caucasus, although they survive in the mountains of Central Asia. 

The Fire Boy and Snow Girl were chosen as the mascots of the Paralympics.

Sochi_Father_FrostEarlier, Ded Moroz, the Russian version of Father Christmas, had been withdrawn because otherwise it would have become the intellectual property property of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

All of the original 24,000 mascot entries were either drawn or computer-designed by ordinary Russians and the selection process has been the subject of lively Internet chat room debate.

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