Have you ever seen figure skaters rained with stuffed animals after completion of their performances? If you are are non skater, you must be thinking how weird. You see in some sports, it is considered to be offensive and degrading for the players if the crowd throws something on them. In competition figure skating, this is normal.
But why, in figure skating, do the spectators throw stuffed animals on their favorite skaters? Fans throw teddy bears because they want to appreciate the performers and the skills they exhibit on the ice. They throw these stuffed animals as a token of appreciation to their favourite athlete. Some fans want to give them something that gets them close to their idols. Winne the Pooh is the most common soft toy to be received by the skater.
Why stuffed animals and not flowers for figure skaters?
Obviously, the spectators can not just go and hug their favorite figure skater, instead they find a way to show their love to praise and admire the performance. Fans also used to throw flowers and bouquets on the ice rink. This was later banned in most rinks, as it was a daunting task to pick them up, and besides it also damaged the rinks. It was also banned due to the potential anthrax threat in 2001. However, some fans still throw flowers on the rink after the performance. Rose petals can be slippy though on the ice.
Now, after the tradition changed, figure skaters get plush toys that are way too easy to pick than flowers and there is no real mess on the ice rink. It is a great tradition for the fans as they can give presents and gifts instantly, they do not need to get into the stress of a fan mail.
What is the most popular stuffed animal for a skater?
The most popular stuffed animal in figure skating is also one of the most popular characters of all time and it is thrown to one of the most famous figure skaters in the world. Well! Not surprisingly, Disney’s Winnie the Pooh is the most popular plush toy in the figure skating world. There is a very interesting story of throwing Pooh Bear on the ice rink.
It was thrown to none other than Japanese sensation Yuzuru Hanyu. In Pyeongchang, the champion figure skater was rained with stuffed animals like a gush of water in a stream after he completed his short performance and all the stuffed animals were Winnie the Pooh. They were in exceptional in numbers and various sizes. They were thrown from every part of the field and one side was completely covered with the plush toys.
It was only yellow on the ice, Pooh bear was everywhere on the ice rink and the fans were shouting and screaming with passion for the Japanese superstar Yuzuru Hanyu. Even he could not control his emotions to the overwhelming reaction of the crowd and started skating around the ice rink. But why fans brought only Pooh bear in mammoth numbers for Hanyu?
Why fans like giving a stuffed Winnie the Pooh to figure skaters?
Yuzuru brings Winnie the Pooh shaped tissue holder to almost every competition that he takes part in, he also gives it a quick hug before every skate. Whether he has an emotional attachment with the bear or he has some superstitious beliefs, he makes it a ritual to hug Winnie before his performance. If a star like Yuzuru has some emotional attachment his fans would give it much more importance. The same is the case with Hanyu fans, his fans soon realize it means something to him. They started bringing these pooh bear stuffed animals and showering them on the rinks after Hanyu’s performances.
What other toys & gifts do ice skaters receive?
Yuzuru Hanyu is not the only skater who gets the stuffed animal and Pooh is not the only stuffed animal that is thrown to the figure skaters as a gift. In fact, stuffed animals are not the only things that are thrown on the ice rinks. There are various weird things thrown by the fans. 1998 Olympic bronze medallist Debi Thomas received a box of Domino’s Pizza that was tossed after his performance. There was not any known reason for that and there shouldn’t be any as it was just thrown by a fan. Once a fan threw a human sized stuffed bear to US skater Gracie Gold with Reese’s peanut butter cup inside, even though she did not perform according to the expectations. One fan went onto a different rather bizarre level and tossed lingerie to Canadian skater Elvis Stokjo. These freakish incidents must be fun to watch.
The UK’s Lulu Alexandra, current Winter World Masters Games Artistic Champion and Level 4 Fitness Professional, says she usually receives loads of chocolate and candy vs teddy’s. Other usual gifts she reports are key rings, flowers, badges, lanyards, cards, tissues, gloves, and lots of handmade things. Watch out for a future article on Lulu coming soon!
Lulu also had handmade soap, perfume, wine, champagne (not thrown on the ice!), personalised M&M’s from Jean Teng (USA) and hand crochet keyrings from Betting Keil Germany. The most useful are the tissues and most skaters know you can never have enough!! And gloves, because skaters put holes in theirs doing haircutter spins!
Ellie Huntington – our British Adult Ice Skating Champion also shared her teddy photos! She waits for the scores with her welsh dragon called ‘Gethin’, her mascot from her local Welsh rink.
Who picks up these soft animal toys off the ice?
You must have wondered how all this mess gets cleared after the fans throw in all the stuffed animals. Or how it even gets cleared during a competition when things get out of your control. Such as in the case of Yuzuru Hanyu when almost every single spectator brought a pooh bear with them.
Of course yes, the rink gets completely cleared and all the gifts are always handed over to the person it is thrown for. In fact, there are people specially appointed for this job, they are called stuffed animal wranglers.
This is not an easy job at all, theses wranglers are expert skaters and sometimes professional junior skaters. They are hired to get the job done in big tournaments. Because things get real worse in quick time, with fans hurdling gifts and plush toys on the ice, but clearing it up is a strenuous job and requires great skill and commitment.
They do not just skate on the ice but sometimes they are under a continuous bombardment of stuffed animals. When the skating gifts are incalculable, these wranglers have to skate with agility and pace that even increases the chance of injuries greatly. Fans could even bring a hard substance and could throw it on the rink that could cause a head injury to a wrangler.
Therefore, it is a very perilous job. But the way these wranglers manage the situation, especially when there is a skater like Yuzuru, is commendable. The stuffed animal wranglers wear a costume similar to that of a professional figure skater. But with the type of risks involved doing this job, there should be some personal protective equipment provided to the wranglers.
What happens to these stuffed animals afterward?
Many figure skaters love this tradition of fans throwing stuffed animals on the ice rink after their performances. Sometimes they are in huge numbers and if you have been skating for a long time, you end up having lots and lots of plush toys.
So do they keep all the gifts or do they gift them to someone else? Definitely, they can not keep all the presents. It is humanly impossible for the figure skaters to keep all of the plush toys and some more popular figure skaters would require a separate building to keep the gifts given by the fans.
At the start of their career, figure skaters try to keep them all but when they start to grow as an athlete they become helpless. So, they use them for even a greater cause, donating the stuffed animals to a children’s hospital or a charity organisation.
Tara Lipinski, 1998 Olympic gold medallist, said in an interview that she used to round them up at the end of the competition and took them to a local children’s hospital. She also mentioned that she sometimes kept some special ones.
After the performance in the Pyeongchang Olympics, a similar question was asked to Yuzuru Hanyu. He really appreciates the overwhelming support and gifts he gets from the fans but he can not keep them all. He said he would donate the stuffed Pooh bear to the local community and the people of Pyeongchang and Gangneung.
Two times Olympic medallist, former American figure skater Michelle Kwan, also said the same thing. When she first took part in senior nationals at the age of 13, she got a lot of stuffed animals and she kept every single one of them. But in the second and third nationals, she was unable to and then ever since has donated to a local hospital.
Alex and Maia Shibutani, Olympic ice dance figure skaters said that they can not keep them either. But if there is a personal message behind, it becomes much more special and they might keep them.
Every figure skater would have thousands of stuffed animals and their charitable donations are a must. It’s actually a very nice way for local hospitals to benefit. Some skaters keep few gifts as a souvenir to commemorate a special event or victory and some keep them if there are some unique memories attached to them.
Have skaters received stuffed animals instead of medals?
In Pyeongchang Winter Olympic in 2018, the organisers gave stuffed animals to the medallist as a reward for their outstanding performances. But that does not mean they did not get the actual medals.
In the Winter Olympics, the organizers get the chance to have a small medal distribution ceremony to give some gifts to the medallist every night. The medallist used to get flowers and bouquets but after they are considered as unsustainable, stuffed animals were given to the best performers.
Another reason to choose stuffed animals is due to fans’ tradition of throwing plush toys to their favourite figure skaters. The memento that was given to the medallists was a white tiger and the official mascot of the Winter Olympic 2018. Its name was Soohorang which means ‘tiger protection’.
A Tiger is deemed to be an important figure in Korean traditions and it is considered to be a symbol of luck, pride, and courage. The little mascot also wore a golden, silver, or bronze hat and a paper flower known as “Uhsahwa”. The medals were later distributed to the athletes after everyone got the little mascot stuffed animal.
Throwing stuffed animals to your favorite figure skater is a fun and friendly tradition as everyone gets a chance to take part in the game and it is a nice gesture to appreciate and admire the performance. It is one of those things that every sport should look to and should try to apply in any form. Though it would become uncontrollable in some sports, it gets the crowd excited and engaged in the game.
Skate Perfects thanks Lulu Alexandra for her input and photos.
Athina Moshidou for her lovely image with coach Panagiotis Markouizos
Ellie Huntington for her image during the final score.
Диана Тажетдинова for their You Tube Clip