EFECaracas

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro on Monday welcomed at Miraflores presidential palace the athletes who participated in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, presenting decorations to the three medalists and those who earned Olympic certificates in eight disciplines.

"We have to feel very proud and women have to feel very proud of the spirit of competitiveness, of struggle that our youth has," said Maduro at the ceremony broadcast on national radio and television.

The Venezuelan leader bestowed the Order of Francisco de Miranda, First Class, on bronze medalists BMX cyclist Stefany Hernandez and boxer Yoel Finol, as well as on Yulimar Rojas, who earned a silver in the triple jump but was not present due to athletic commitments.

Meanwhile, the athletes who received Olympic certificates for finishing among the top eight athletes in their sports, were presented with the Order of Jose Felix Ribas, First Class.

Gymnast Jessica Lopez (uneven bars); the men's cycling team comprised of Cesar Marcano, Angel Pulgar and Hersony Canelon; as well as boxer Gabriel Maestre all received the honorary award.

In addition, wrestler Betzabeth Argüello; along with Pedro Ceballos; taekwondo practitioner Edgar Contreras; the men's fencing team comprised of Francisco Limardo, Ruben Limardo and Silvio Fernandez; and weightlifter Yaniuska Espinoza received the order from the president.

Maduro emphasized the effort the athletes had put into their sports to stand out in their categories and said that "maintaining that great level and raising it to the highest degree between now and (the) 2020 Tokyo (Games) is the commitment."

The president also announced during the ceremony that he had approved an investment plan for the next Olympic cycle, increasing by 50 percent the number of athletic scholarships.

He also presented housing, within the government's social Mision Vivienda program, to all the athletes who participated in Rio, calling the apartments "a stimulus and (element of) stability so that you may continue growing," and promised to build a top training center for elite athletes.