A close-up photo capturing the tender moment of a figure skater delicately cradling a plush stuffed animal, showcasing the emotional bond and comfort these athletes often seek amidst the pressure and intensity of their performances.

Figure skating is a graceful and artistic sport that captivates audiences. One endearing tradition you may have noticed is figure skaters holding stuffed animals as they await their scores. But why do these athletes clutch plush toys after high-flying jumps and intricate spins across the icy stage?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Figure skaters have stuffed animals mainly for comfort and tradition.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll uncover the meaning behind this iconic figure skating ritual. We’ll explore the history of how it originated, the role superstition plays, and why certain stuffies end up being the skaters’ companion.

The History and Origins of Figure Skaters Having Stuffed Animals

Early beginnings at the 1968 Olympics

The tradition of figure skaters having stuffed animals at competitions started in 1968 at the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. Peggy Fleming, the gold medalist in women’s singles figure skating, brought along her stuffed animal dog named Rhinestone for good luck.

She admitted being quite nervous before her winning short program performance and held on tight to her beloved companion to help calm herself down. After capturing gold, Rhinestone became something of a minor celebrity as well!

Inspired by Fleming’s example, having a small stuffed animal talisman became an increasingly common ritual for many competitive figure skaters over the next few decades. The little plush toys seemed to have magical good luck powers in helping calm jittery nerves.

They also reminded skaters of home and brought comfort in stressful situations away from family and friends. Over time, spotting what stuffed mascot a skater brought with them to the kiss-and-cry area after their program became part of the fun for audiences too.

The rise of the “good luck charm” ritual and tradition

As the years went on, the superstition morphed from just a personal item to part of accepted tradition. By the 1990s, it was extremely common for skaters to have stuffed animals with them at competitions.

The fluffy keepsakes had become an expected part of a skater’s preparation ritual before taking the ice, along with practices and costume fittings. Many commentators would even talk about a skater’s special stuffed friend as they analyzed performances.

Fans began gifting customized plush toys to their favorite skaters as well to wish them luck.

1998 Michelle Kwan and her little puppy named “Pupsters” captured hearts as she won silver at the Olympics and gold at Worlds.
2002 Sarah Hughes clutched an adorable frog and defeated Kwan to take Olympic gold.
2010 Kim Yuna had cute stuffed animals named “Winnie” and “Piano” as she claimed Olympic gold.

The stuffed animal tradition remains time-honored today. Plush toys with cute faces peer out from the kiss-and-cry with skaters at every competition, reminders of youth and happier moments for the athletes under tremendous pressure to perform.

Though no scientific evidence confirms whether these “good luck charms” genuinely help, few skaters are willing to tempting fate by leaving their fluffy friends behind!

The Role of Superstition and Comfort for Figure Skaters

How skaters deal with pressure and nerves

Figure skating competitions can be extremely stressful and nerve-wracking experiences for athletes. The pressure to land difficult jumps and execute intricate step sequences on the ice under the bright lights, while judges and audiences watch their every move, is immense.

Many skaters rely on specific pre-performance rituals and superstitions to help calm their nerves. These might involve consistently warming up in the same pattern, wearing “lucky” accessories, or finding a quiet space to mentally rehearse their routines beforehand.

Having comforting, familiar touchstones can provide a sense of control amid the uncertainty of competition.

The comforting and cathartic role stuffies play

One common ritual for many figure skaters, especially younger ones, is carrying a special stuffed animal—known as a “stuffy”—at competitions. These stuffies take on great meaning for skaters. They provide a source of comfort in high-stress situations, almost like an emotional support animal.

Skaters often cling to them backstage before taking the ice or after coming off.

Stroking the soft, cuddly texture of the stuffy or squeezing it tightly offers a soothing, sensory catharsis when skaters’ nerves threaten to overwhelm them. The familiar, positive memories associated with the stuffed animal—maybe it was a childhood gift from their parents or coach—help instill confidence and remind them that, win or lose, support systems care about them as people rather than solely judging them on performance.

While superstitions or childhood mementos may seem trivial, the mental benefits should not be underestimated when preparing for intense athletic and artistic feats. If carrying a special stuffed penguin or rabbit’s foot provides comfort and bolsters a figure skater’s mental game even a tiny bit, it is certainly not frivolous.

Rather, it is an integral part of their competitive ethos and success.

Traditions and Customs Around Significant Stuffed Animals

Passing Down Special Stuffies Between Generations

In the world of figure skating, stuffed animals hold a special significance that goes far beyond just being cuddly toys. Many skaters form strong emotional attachments to their favorite stuffies, viewing them as good luck charms or reminders of cherished memories and relationships from over the years.

This has led to many wonderful traditions of passing down beloved stuffed animals between generations of skaters.

It’s common for young up-and-coming skaters to be gifted special stuffies by their coaches, teammates, or even Olympic champions they admire. These special stuffies then take on a whole new meaning, becoming treasured keepsakes that remind the skaters of the people who believe in them and support their Olympic dreams.

As these young skaters grow in their careers, their tattered yet priceless hand-me-down stuffies remain by their side.

Then one day, after achieving their own success, many champion figure skaters will pass their beloved stuffies down in a symbolic “passing of the torch” gesture. For example, when the great Michelle Kwan retired from competition, she passed her stuffed animal down to the talented young skater Mariah Bell, who saw it as an enormous honor.

Many other skaters have upheld similar meaningful stuffie-inheritance traditions over the generations.

Unique Stories Behind Cherished Toys

In addition to these passing-down customs, many individual stuffed animals in the figure skating world have their own special origin stories behind why they are so deeply cherished by their owners.

For instance, when the 2022 Olympic champion Anna Shcherbakova was just 6 years old, her mother gave her a stuffed lamb toy to take to practice for comfort. Anna instantly bonded with her new woolly companion, whom she named “Little Pushkin.”

Ever since, Little Pushkin has been by Anna’s side at every competition like her little guardian angel. He sits proudly next to her stuffed animal collection by the rink boards as Anna skates. Similar unique stories of chance childhood toy gifts that turn into international good luck talismans are common in figure skating lore.

There are also many stories of skaters becoming attached to regionally symbolic stuffed animals during their travels to competitions abroad. These special stuffies then make treasured souvenirs reminding the skaters of the different countries and cultures encountered over years of global adventures together pursuing their love of figure skating.

So whether it’s cherishing generations-old hand-me-down companions or forging new bonds with stuffed mascots picked up along the winding roads of competition, stuffed animals hold an esteemed stature in figure skating tradition, where they are far more than just playthings.

What Happens to the Stuffed Animals After Competitions?

Giving Away Stuffed Animals to Fans

It’s become a beloved tradition for figure skaters to get showered with plush toys and stuffed animals after a competition. According to the TedTalks article “Why do figure skaters throw stuffed animals onto the ice?

, sometimes a single skater can accumulate over 300 stuffed animals in one competition! 😮 Rather than keeping them all, most skaters opt to give many away to delighted fans, especially children. The joy of handing a treasured toy to an adoring young fan is heartwarming.

As Michelle Kwan has said, “It’s a way to give back to the fans and share a special moment. “

Some skaters even toss the plush toys into the stands after their programs as souvenirs for lucky audience members to take home. Can you imagine catching one of those special stuffed animals?! 👏 Not only is it fun for the fans, but it cuts down on the sheer volume of plushies the skaters need to transport back home or to their next event!

Donations and Other Post-Competition Uses

While the skaters keep some meaningful stuffed animals for themselves, many also get donated after competitions. According to a NBC News article, skaters often give their surplus plush toys to local children’s hospitals, orphanages, or other charities once a competition wraps up.

It helps spread joy to children in need.

Some event organizers even have official donation sites where fans can leave stuffed animals that the skaters later distribute to charitable causes. Apart from hospitals and orphanages, extra competition stuffed animals may go to homeless shelters, Ronald McDonald Houses to comfort kids undergoing treatment, or even animal shelters for the resident cats and dogs!

2022 Winter Olympics Gold Medalist Post-Competition Plushie Plans
Anna Shcherbakova 🥇 Donated to orphanages in need
Nathan Chen 🥇 Gifted to young skaters and fans

As fun as those cuddly stuffed critters are, even elite figure skaters only have so much room to store giant piles of plushies. Thankfully, the beloved toys often go on to bring smiles to kids’ faces thanks to some creative post-competition plans! 😊👍


Figure skating competitions captivate viewers with dazzling performances, but the enduring tradition of athletes clutching stuffed animals reveals a more personal side to these competitors. Although initiated by Czechoslovakian skater Regine Heitzer at the 1968 Olympics, this ritual continues today as athletes draw comfort from their fluffy companions.

The unique bond between figure skaters and their special stuffed animals sheds light on how these competitors deal with pressure and seek familiarity in the high-stakes world of figure skating. Whether passed down for generations or gifted by devoted fans, these stuffies end up capturing hearts on and off the ice.

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