Russia declares official mascots for 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi amid complaints of fraud and vote-rigging

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Russia finally revealed its mascots for the 2014 Winter Olympics on Saturday in a controversial announcement that caused charges of plagiarism and claims that Prime Minster Vladimir used strongman tactics to get his favorite among the winners.

The three chosen mascots were a grinning polar bear, a cuddly hare and a snowboarding leopard. These   were selected during a live broadcast on Russia's main television station, Channel One.

The games will be held in Sochi, a resort city on Russia's Black Sea coast.

Supposedly, it was the television viewers who should pick the winners from a pool of 10 candidates by calling or sending text messages to the station.

However, there were talks of vote rigging which began after voting for the front-runner, a cartoon portrayal of Father Christmas Ded Moroz, a holiday folk figure similar to Santa Clause, plummeted in favor of the snow leopard, which Putin had praised as "strong, fast and beautiful" and called his "symbolic choice."

"Just after Vladimir Putin showed his sympathy for the leopard, its votes climbed sharply," Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told Moscow Echo radio.

Bloggers in Russia called the announcement a fraud and claimed the telephone system was rigged because the leopard was badly trailing Ded Moroz and several other designs when the voting opened, according to AFP.

Later, the artist who designed the bear mascot for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow said the polar bear ripped off his design.