Why do people throw stuffed animals at figure skaters?

Moments after a figure skater completes his routine, adoring fans toss gifts onto the ice. There have certainly been some weird ones over the years. Like NBC Sports reports, Sasha Cohen has already received several cashmere sweaters; Canadians Elvis Stojko and Patrick Chan walked away with lingerie; and Debi Thomas even had a Domino’s pizza box after his performance at the 1987 world championships. (Another skater, Doug Mattis, threw him on the rink because Thomas jokingly wondered why people “don’t throw away something good, like pizza? “)

Aside from carbs and clothing, post-program offerings are mostly stuffed animals. Although it’s not clear exactly how or when this custom started, there are a few factors that help explain why it’s so popular. First and foremost, flowers, once the go-to item to throw at skaters, are messy. The “sweepers” – children who skate to collect all the presents between each program – have a much easier time grabbing stuffed toys than scraping every petal and leaf that has fallen from its flower.

There is no global ban on throwing bouquets, but organizations have tried to discourage the practice in the past. In 1989, American figure skating prohibited arenas organize national flower sales championships. And prior to the 2002 Nationals, the association outright banned fans from bringing their own flowers (and other items) into the arena. According to Los Angeles Timesthe move had already been underway for some time, and the 9/11 attacks and anthrax attacks generated security concerns that prompted organizers to speed up the process.

“Flowers have always been a problem. Even when packed, the staples come out and become a hazard,” said Larry Kriwanek, chairman of the event’s organizing committee. Los Angeles Times. “The flowers were going to be eliminated. It was just a matter of when.” Instead, fans could buy stuffed animals already allowed inside the arena and shower their favorite skaters with them.

Stuffed animals also allow fans to choose gifts that feel more personal. After Japanese gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu was spotted with a Winnie the Pooh tissue holder, for example, fans began punctuating his skating routines with a teddy bear stunt.

“We sometimes get stuffed animals made into custom costumes to match what we’re wearing,” American ice dancer Meryl Davis, who won gold with partner Charlie White in 2014, told NBC Sports.

Skaters often try to bring home particularly meaningful or thoughtful gifts. Michelle Kwan is pretty sure her parents’ attic still houses a sizable collection of stuffed animals from her competitive days. But if your carefully selected Winnie the Pooh never ends up in Hanyu’s parents’ attic, rest assured he’s still in good hands: Hanyu donates all of his plushies, as do many other skateboarders.

[h/t NBC Sports]

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