By Alexei Anishchuk
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin told the athletes who took the host nation to the top of the medals table at the Sochi Winter Olympics that they had accomplished their mission.
At a state awards ceremony for the athletes and their coaches on Monday, Putin conveyed "a huge, heartfelt thanks" from millions of Russians for Games that he said had showed the face of a new Russia to the world.
Russia won 13 golds and 33 medals at Games with an overall price tag estimated at more than $50 billion. Putin hoped they would boost the patriotic sentiment he has sought to harness since returning to the presidency in 2012.
"You have accomplished the mission assigned to you," Putin said. "The results scored by our national team show that we have left the difficult period in the history of national sports behind us.
"Any competition where athletes defend the honor of their nation are important and crucial. But the responsibility that rested on the shoulders of our national team was that of the highest level."
Putin has claimed to have restored stability after a chaotic period that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, and he staked his reputation on holding successful and safe Games.
"The Games in Sochi were destined to present the new and multi-faceted Russia to the world," he said.
The Games won praise from International Olympic Committee officials and there were no major security incidents, despite fears following suicide bombings in southern Russia in December blamed on insurgents based near Sochi in the North Caucasus.
Putin faced criticism over a law he signed last year banning the spread of gay "propaganda" among minors, which activists and Western governments said was discriminatory and out of line with the inclusive Olympic spirit.
Calls for a boycott failed, but some Western leaders stayed away without explanation. U.S. President Barack Obama sent a delegation that included prominent homosexual athletes.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Robert Woodward)