Russia's largest privately held oil producer Lukoil has held a surprise ceremony to commemorate medal-winning performances by members of the country's Winter Olympics team, with chief executive Vagit Alekperov handing out gifts and fuel vouchers to athletes and their coaches.
Though the Winter Olympics finished on 20 February, the ceremony had been delayed for almost two months as Lukoil’s management was kept busy dealing with the impacts of sanctions and a growing aversion to doing business with Russian companies.
Lukoil has been a chief sponsor of the Russian ski team since 1998, also supporting junior ski teams across the country via dedicated grants.
The ski team's haul of 11 medals in the Beijing Olympics was the top contribution to the Russia's overall total of 32 medals.
Alekperov singled out the achievements of skier Alexander Bolshunov, who added five medals to the team's tally.
It was touch and go whether Russia would even compete, due to the ongoing legacy of previous doping scandals. Permission to compete was given shortly before the event, and Russian athletes were asked to attend the Games as representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee.
However, doping scandals are now the least of the worries facing Russian athletes.
Many, including Bolshunov, are now coping with the prospect of losing international sponsorship arrangements and facing disciplinary investigations after appearing at a huge pro-Putin rally in Moscow.
Lukoil appeared willing to act as a voice of reason one month ago, when the company called for a diplomatic resolution of the Ukraine crisis, but the show of support to Russia's athletes suggests the oil giant is walking a delicate tightrope.
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