The only place you couldn’t find Winnie the Pooh after Japanese sensation Yuzuru Hanyu’s short program at the Pyeongchang Olympics was in the kiss-and-cry area on television.
The International Olympic Committee’s sponsorship rules don’t allow it.
Otherwise, the golden bear that English author A.A. Milne created nearly a century ago could be found in all shapes and sizes inside Gangneung Ice Arena. There were people dressed in full costumes of the honey-hungry bear, others wearing only the ears, and hundreds of stuffed Pooh bears cascaded onto the ice when Hanyu completed a program that gave him an Olympic-record 111.68 points.
You might well have called it a Pooh storm.
“I don’t think there are many athletes who are supported by so many fans, so I feel really privileged,” he said. “I was full of joy because I can skate and because I appreciate the supporters.”
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
So where did this Winnie the Pooh thing start?
Well, when Hanyu began skating when he was about 4 years old, he would set a tissue box cover shaped like Winnie the Pooh on the scoring board in the rink for good luck. He kept bringing the charm to the rink as he rose through the ranks, and his Japanese fans quickly caught on.
Even his Canadian coach, Brian Orser, bought in, frequently bringing a Winnie the Pooh to the arena for practice. Hanyu often can be seen hugging one for good luck before a competition.
Pooh-mania really picked up steam when Hanyu won the world junior championship in 2010, and the Japanese media got ahold of the story. He was suddenly deluged with Winnie the Pooh bears every time he competed, the collection growing exponentially when he won Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.
It’s going to grow even more after the Pyeongchang Games. There were so many bears on the ice Friday that the children tasked with collecting them had a hard time keeping up. And when they tried to stuff them into huge bags, they wound up with several dozen sitting in the corners of the arena.
Typically, Hanyu will keep one or two and the rest will be donated to charities.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Hanyu is trying to become to become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic titles since American figure skater Dick Button, who accomplished the feat in 1948 and 1952.
“We know how popular figure skating is in Japan. A lot of the Japanese fans also support other skaters,” said Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who is second with 107.58 points after the short program, and who admitted it was quite a sight seeing the Pooh-storm surrounding his rival.
Fernandez said he wasn’t surprised by Hanyu’s spectacular performance, complete with a quad loop, triple toe loop and a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination _ even though the Japanese skater had been sidelined the last couple of months with an injury.
“Everyone is asking me if Yuzu is going to be ready,” Fernandez said. “I’m like, ‘It’s Yuzu. Of course he’s going to be ready.’”
In that case, better get your Pooh bears ready.