“Ice Prince” Yuzuru Hanyu isn’t just the world’s best male figure skater—he can also make it rain Winnie the Pooh.
Hanyu famously loves the Disney character and to show support, his fans have brought loads of the cuddly bear to competitions and thrown them into the rink at the end of his performances.
But at this Olympics, COVID-19 restrictions banning spectators from overseas means the usual shower of red and yellow plushies will likely be absent—perhaps to the relief of China’s president, Xi Jinping.
The comparison between the Disney bear and the Chinese president became widely known in 2013, when internet users likened a photo of Xi walking with Barack Obama with one showing the chubby Winnie the Pooh walking with the lanky Tigger.
Since then, Winnie the Pooh’s name and pictures have been frequently and derisively used to refer to Xi and prompted censorship in China. In 2018, China denied the import of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh film, Christopher Robin, a decision some suspected was related to this political connotation.
But Elisa Yang, a fan of the skater—also known as a Fanyu—who now lives in Berlin, said Chinese fans have no problem showing their support for the Japanese athlete using the bear, pointing to the numerous photos of Winnie the Pooh on Hanyu’s Chinese fan accounts.
“As I know, many Chinese fans have a number of Pooh dolls at home, waiting to see him and fly to him!” she told VICE World News.
Yang herself has thrown a Pooh bear for Hanyu, after seeing him skate during the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final held in Turin, Italy in 2019. She recalled how two of her Chinese Fanyu friends went with her, their luggage filled with Pooh dolls—they threw seven or eight toys amid the biggest Pooh storm they had ever seen.
“Before 2020, when I chatted with other Fanyus, we always joked that we would drive a small truck, full of Pooh, to watch his competition in Beijing,” she said.
Martina Frammartino, a 52-year-old Fanyu from Italy, used to wear a Winnie the Pooh onesie to see Hanyu perform. Though this time she can’t attend the Beijing Olympics due to a ban on overseas travelers, she writes a blog about Hanyu and his competitions and looks to show her support from afar.
“To write these posts, I practically stopped writing about other things, and I devoted all my free time to them by giving up other activities, but I don’t regret it,” she told VICE World News.
During Hanyu’s short program on Tuesday morning, the star figure skater missed his first planned jump, a quadruple salchow, delivering a blow to fans watching. He rotated once instead of four times due to his skate getting caught on a groove in the ice, likely made by a skater who performed before him, he explained to Japanese media.
The lost points have placed Hanyu in eighth and could hurt his shot at gold. The Olympic title defender competes again in the free program on Thursday, where he could attempt the quadruple axel jump, a challenging move no one has ever tried before in the Olympics.