It is a job they love, as 11-year-old Kang Hae-bin explained: “It’s fun. We have to be fast on the ice and pick up as many gifts as fast as we can. I watch the skaters perform up close, and I get to see their mesmerising moves and jumps.”
As well as enjoying the skaters’ performances, nine-year-old Yun Seo-jin also feels a sense of service whenever she takes to the ice: “It feels great to be out there, picking up the gifts for the players.”
Flower kids are something of an institution at international figure skating competitions and their presence at the Olympic Winter Games lends an extra dash of colour and youthful exuberance to the occasion. Dressed in the purple colours of PyeongChang 2018, Kang and Yun are just two of the 17 flower kids on duty at the Gangneung Ice Arena and all of them are skilled enough to do their own double jumps.
Recruited a year ago to help out at the Four Continents tournament in Gangneung and aged between nine and 11, Kang, Yun and Co had several training sessions before making their debuts on the ice. Together they cluster by the rink gate as the performing skaters take their bows before being ushered out to do their duty.
Their biggest challenge so far has been cleaning up after Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who was showered with flowers and Winnie-the-Pooh toy bears en route to becoming the first man in 66 years to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the ice after Hanyu performed because there were so many Poohs and gifts out there,” said Kang. “There are usually only a few fan gifts to pick up after the other skaters perform, but with Hanyu, we had nearly 50 bags of stuffed animals after his short and long programmes. It took about three minutes to clear the ice.”
Yun agreed that tidying up after the Japanese icon was hard work: “There were so many to pick up for Hanyu that all of us had to go on to the ice after his performance. It was fun doing it together with my friends though. It’s amazing to see all these great skaters right before my eyes. We leave the bags of gifts so they can come and pick them up later.”
Kang’s favourite skaters are both from the Republic of Korea: Cha Jun-hwan, who competed in the men’s singles at PyeongChang 2018; and Yuna Kim, who achieved legendary status in her homeland when winning gold at Vancouver 2010 and silver at Sochi 2014.
And then, of course, there is Hanyu. “He is good at jumping and does everything else so well,” said an appreciative Kang.
Fellow flower kid Oh Yoo-jin, who names the USA’s Nathan Chen among her favourites, is hoping she might be showered with stuffed toys herself one day: “I am here dreaming of making it on to the Olympic stage myself.”