Eagle-eyed fans may have spotted 2014 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu toting around a Winnie-the-Pooh between practices and competition during the Games.
Dating back to at least 2010, his Pooh Bear covered tissue box has been a mainstay. Hanyu’s Pooh (which has its own Twitter account) has evolved over the years, but now dutifully sits on the boards next to coach Brian Orser. Hanyu meticulously arranges Pooh so the bear has the best view of the ice and plays with him before skating.
Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist himself, doesn’t know the reasoning behind the bear.
“I don’t know!” he admitted in an interview. “I know that Yuzuru is very, very superstitious, and I believe it’s part of the superstition.”
At the 2015 World Championships in Shanghai, when Hanyu concluded his program, it took at least 10 “sweepers” – skaters who clear the ice between competitors – to collect all the Poohs. He captured a silver medal in that competition, while training partner Javier Fernandez of Spain won the title.
“I’m going to skate around [the bears] and try not to kill myself,” Fernandez reportedly said then.
At Worlds in 2016, held in Boston, Orser was overwhelmed by the support. Hanyu took another silver behind Fernandez.
“You go backstage and there are bags and bags and bags,” said Orser. “Yuzu’s parents and sister and agent go through every single bag and separate all the flowers and gifts and cards and they send something back.”
Hanyu won the world championships in 2017, and Pooh Bears littered the ice again in Helsinki. Team USA’s Nathan Chen, who skated after Hanyu’s performance, said staying focused was part of the mental challenge; Chen ultimately placed sixth in his Worlds debut.
“In that situation, it’s a little bit of a mind game, making sure I am able to stay focused no matter what the distractions may be – a million Pooh Bears or someone doing something unnecessary or abnormal,” Chen explained. “Trying to really ignore those things is something I’ve prepared myself for before every single event. So if things come up, they don’t even bother me anymore.”