Fans of Japanese champion Yuzuru Hanyu chose to celebrate the figure skater’s Winter Olympics opener in a unique way – by showering him with Winnie the Pooh bears.
The 23-year-old notched 111.68 points in the short program of the men’s single skating on Friday, an Olympic record-breaking score that leaves him in first place ahead of free skating on Saturday.
The impressive performance was met with a rapturous – and bizarre – response from the defending Olympic champion’s faithful supporters, who showered him with dozens of Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys.
It was not the first time Hanyu has been caught in a hail of teddy bears – the skater’s fans do it as a nod to his love for AA Milne’s classic character.
Earlier this week, Hanyu told reporters we wasn’t sure how the quirky tradition started.
“This happens every single time and makes me happy,” he said. “I am always very grateful.
“Mainly I think it’s because I’ve always kept a box of tissues decorated with a stuffed Pooh at rinkside, and when I was really little I had a cap with Pooh on it. The fans just started doing it.”
Due to corporate sponsorship rules, the Olympian was not allowed to keep his Pooh tissue box rinkside while he competed.
However, that didn’t stop his supporters bringing Pooh bears into the arena and sitting them on their laps as they watched.
Others dressed as the honey-loving bear or wore Pooh hats.
Supporters had not seen Hanyu skate since October following an injury, so they turned out in force at the Gangneung Ice Arena.
Young assistants collected the bears from the rink after Hanyu’s record-breaking performance and some had their arms so full the toys spilled out.
The bears were heaped by the side of the rink, put into bags and will be donated locally.