On Friday, Feb. 16 in PyeongChang, South Korea (Thursday night in the U.S.), something spectacular happened on the Winter Olympics skating rink. No, I'm not talking about the 50 million attempted quads. I'm talking about the tons of people who threw Winnie the Pooh dolls for Yuzuru Hanyu, the Japanese skater. It was a bizarre sight to see as the rink filled up with dozens of Winnie the Poohs following Hanyu's incredible short program, and it's a scene that's sure to be repeated on Saturday (Friday night in the U.S.) after he completes his free skate.
In the sport of figure skating, it's a regular tradition for fans to throw things onto the ice for their favorite competitor. Usually, it's a bunch of flowers and maybe some stuffed animals. But for Hanyu, it's always Winnie the Pooh bears. There's a simple reason for it — with a cute story to match. Basically, fans thrown Hanyu Winnie the Poohs because Hanyu loves Winnie the Pooh.
It all started as far back as 2010, according to NBC, when Hanyu began bringing a Winnie the Pooh tissue box to competition. To clarify: Yes, it's a tissue box, with a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal around it. And to answer the question I'm sure you're asking: Yes, it has its own Twitter account.
Whenever Hanyu skated, he would bring his Winnie the Pooh tissue box friend with him. He even went so far as to position the Winnie the Pooh to face him while he skated, according to The Washington Post. And Hanyu would also bring the box (the Pooh? The bear? The Pooh tissue?) to press conferences, so fans of the skater really got to know his lucky charm (and, presumably, friend). So fans began throwing Winnie the Pooh bears after he finished his programs, and it became a major tradition for the skating champion.
The tradition has an extra sweet meaning in the context of the PyeongChang Olympics. According to The New York Times, Hanyu could not bring his Winnie the Pooh tissue box charm with him to the PyeongChang rink. That's because Winnie is a Disney character, so having him there would reportedly violate the Olympics' branding and sponsorship rules. Still, The Times reported, Hanyu had a Pooh doll in his room and conferred with him before competition. "I’m sure he was cheering for me," Hanyu said, per The Times.
So since he could not bring Pooh, the fans brought Pooh to him. Lots and lots of Pooh. This was the scene on Friday morning (Thursday night in PyeongChang) after Hanyu completed his short program, which put him in the lead heading into the free skate:
"You go backstage, and there are bags and bags and bags," Brian Orser, Hanyu's coach, said about all the Pooh bears, per The Washington Post. And don't worry, all of those Poohs don't get left behind on their lonesome. Instead, they will be donated to children around Gangneung and PyeongChang, South Korea, according to The Washington Post. Hanyu regularly has the dolls donated to children around wherever a competition is happening, so there's a happy ending for each and every one of these Poohs.
At this point, between the short program and free skate, it's looking like Hanyu will have a happy ending of his own, provided he avoids catastrophe in his free skate on Saturday morning (Friday night in the U.S.). Hanyu skated beautifully and cleanly in his short program, putting him in first place heading into the free skate. He earned 111.68 points with his clean quad salchow, triple axel, and quad toe loop with a triple toe loop (!!!!!!). That put him over four points ahead of Javier Fernandez, the Spanish skater who finished the short program in second place. If Winnie the Pooh is cheering him on, I'm sure Hanyu will see himself up on the podium after the free skate. But if not, at least he knows he has a loving friend to comfort him in the event of a disaster.