Figure skating fans weren’t surprised to see what happened at the end of Yuzuru Hanyu’s short program at the 2018 Winter Olympics. After being out for a couple of months prior to the Games due to an ankle injury, according to the Japan Times, fans of the two-time Olympics champion applauded, yelled, and waved Japanese flags in support of his comeback.
What happened next, however, shocked casual viewers, as it started to rain down stuffed Winnie the Pooh bears from the stands. Why Winnie the Pooh? Since early in his career, Yuzuru has carried a special Winnie the Pooh tissue box holder that he takes with him to every competition as his good luck charm. But because of sponsorship issues, he couldn’t bring it to the Games, so his fans helped him out by tossing toys onto the ice.
Little girls in matching skating outfits ran out onto the ice to pick up each of the plushies, and he became the new owner of dozens of flowers, gifts, and stuffed animals from his loyal fans. It’ll be tough for him to bring all of them back home, but as it turns out, skaters actually don’t have to.
According to the Japan Times, Yuzuru announced that he donated all the gifts that were thrown onto the ice. “I will do the same as in all competitions: I give them to the local community,” he said. “I will donate them to people of Gangneung or Pyeongchang.”
It’s a figure skating tradition that doesn’t look like it will end soon. Fans of skaters bring flowers, stuffed animals, art, and other gifts that they throw onto the ice after their favorite skater’s performance. Some even try to fit the theme of the skater’s performance, like back in 2018 when U.S. skater Sean Rabbit received not just 1 but 12 bottles of tequila after skating to “Tequila” for his short program.
Some skaters even partner with certain charities that are close to their hearts. 2014 and 2022 U.S. Olympian Jason Brown donates his gifts to Ronald McDonald House charities all over the world.
Skaters get the chance to go through their gifts to see which ones they want to keep. Note cards and specially designed gifts usually will be kept by the skater if they have the means to bring them all back home.
It’s still not revealed whether or not fans will be able to throw plushies on the ice, especially as COVID-19 protocols have caused competitions to ban the practice over the years. And with China’s very strict Olympics bubble, there’s a chance we won’t get a repeat of that iconic moment from 2018. Even though he might’ve already received enough to last a lifetime, if it’s possible, fans should expect even more Pooh bears to hit the ice after Yuzuru’s performance in the free skate competition as he defends his Olympics gold medal for the second and likely final time.