By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver

February 19 - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has sent a personal message to figure skater Yevgeny Plushenko telling him that his silver medal is "worth gold" after his controversial defeat here to American Evan Lysacek here last night.

It came after Plushenko's wife demanded that Russian authorities publicly defend her husband who was relegated into second position by Lysacek, the world champion, despite the American's more conservative performance, which has caused outrage in the sport.

Putin said: "Please accept my heartfelt congratulations on your superb performance at the XXI Winter Olympic Games.

"Your silver is worth gold."

Anton Sikharulidze, the chairman of the Russian Parliament's Sports and Culture Committee, also said Plushenko should have won the gold and not the silver.

He said: "On the whole, Yevgeny was the stronger skater."

Plushenko's wife Yana Rudkovskaya said: "This is a gross mistake by the judges.

"We need to defend our sportsmen and protect their honour."

Plushenko, who had won in Turin four years ago, has also slammed the judges and threatened to quit the sport.

He said: "I am not prepared to skate well and lose.

"This is men's figure skating - not ice dancing.

"You can't be considered a true men's champion without a quad,"

The Russian skater said his opening with a tricky quadruple-triple toe-loop was not adequately scored by the judges who instead gave better marks to Lysacek though he did not include a quadruple jump in his programme.

Plushenko said he may retire from competitive skating following his second-place finish.

He said: "For someone to stand on top of the podium with the gold medal around his neck with just doing triple jumps, to me it's not progress, it's a regress because we've done triples 10 or even 20 years ago."

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