GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Miho Mori, an avid figure skating fan from Japan, ardently waved a Japanese flag as her countrywoman Satoko Miyahara skated to fourth place in the women’s short program Wednesday.
But after Miyahara finished, Mori, 40, quickly folded the Japanese flag and pulled out another: a Canadian one that she unfurled for Kaetlyn Osmond, a Canadian skater who placed third in the short program.
And so it was for Alina Zagitova, a 15-year-old Russian phenomenon who took first in the short program, and Carolina Kostner, an Italian fan favorite who placed sixth.
All told, Mori and her husband, Yuichi, who came to the Pyeongchang Olympics on a skating spectators tour, brought six national flags with them so they could show their support for their favorite skaters.
She said that she frequently attends figure skating competitions carrying multiple flags.
“Figure skating is not so much a sport in which one has to beat an opponent,” Mori said. “It is the kind of sport where athletes are trying to reach their personal best. So what I hope is that every one of the skaters will do their best.”
In the hothouse of Olympic competition, where national identity plays an integral role in fandom, ice skating enthusiasts often present a more global front.
Japanese fans, who are among the sport’s most passionate followers at a time when its popularity is falling in the United States and much of Europe and rising in Asia, are particularly known for their egalitarian flag-waving. They often show up to competitions bearing flags from several countries so that every skater will feel a little love.
Akiko Tamura, a Japanese freelance writer who follows skating, said that Japanese audiences genuinely want to see all skaters succeed.
“Good sportsmanship is also highly valued in Japan,” Tamura said. “So that spirit is always there, and I think that it’s extended to the fans.”
Wakako Yuki, a senior writer for the Yomiuri Shimbun in Tokyo who has covered 13 Olympics, said the practice most likely started when Japan played host to figure skating competitions and fans wanted to make athletes from other countries feel welcome.
At a news conference after the short program Wednesday, Osmond, the Canadian skater, said she appreciated seeing her country’s flag.
“It is always exciting to go out onto the ice and see the Canadian flag lifted as many times as possible,” Osmond said. “It is a very global sport, and there are athletes from everywhere. And it is great to see the support for everyone, and it makes me feel a lot better on the ice.”
Of course, the fact that so many Japanese fans attend means that even without formal cheering squads like those from North Korea or Russia, Japan’s flag tends to blanket the arena when Japanese skaters perform.
Yuzuru Hanyu, the Japanese gold medalist in men’s figure skating, drew especially fervent fans who not only waved the flag of Japan but also showered him with stuffed Winnie the Pooh dolls, his favorite good-luck charm.
But his fans also showed support for his rivals.
“I think it’s a wonderful practice,” said Sakae Oikawa, 52, a local government worker from Saitama, a suburb of Tokyo, who was in the audience for the men’s skating competitions.
She is a fan of Hanyu but also likes Adam Rippon and Nathan Chen, who are from the United States. She brought eight flags to the final competition, including those from Spain, Israel and China. She even learned the Russian word — “davai” — for “let’s do it!” so that she could shout it for Dmitri Aliev and Mikhail Kolyada.
South Korean fans, as hosts of the Winter Olympics, have also been showing support for athletes from other countries.
High in the stands Wednesday were 70 people waving Kazakh flags, their exuberant cheering rivaling the loud contingent of Russian fans.
But it turned out they were all South Koreans, many from an exhibit-planning company in Seoul, the capital, who wanted to show support for skaters from the country that had given the company a contract to design a pavilion at the 2017 Astana Expo in Kazakhstan.
Ha Yun-sung, 45, a manager at the company, Sigong Tech, said he ordered about 70 small Kazakh flags and took 30 co-workers to the competition. He handed out the rest of the flags to random spectators, who waved them for skaters Aiza Mambekova and Elizabet Tursynbaeva, who placed 15th in the short program and will compete again Friday in the free skate.
“For countries like the United States, many people already know them,” Ha said. “But not many people know Kazakhstan, so we wanted to give some strength to them.”