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Mario Ko – the local magician who won third place in an international Santa Claus competition
By Vicki Yuen

Wearing a red costume, black boots and small-round glasses, the man with rouged cheeks, white beard and a big belly is dancing frenetically in a video, turning the viral Korean pop rap hit “Gangnam Style” into a promotion for the 2012 Santa Claus Winter Games. He is Marco Ko Tim-yu, who as Santa Mario, was the second runner-up in the 8th Santa Claus Winter Games in 2011.

A Hong Kong representative has competed in the Santa Claus Winter Games, held in Sweden, every year since 2007. The event was founded in 2003 by a retired Santa Claus, Santa Svensson in Gellivare, a small town in Sweden. The aim is to gather Santas from all corners of the globe and to test their physical skills.

The tasks can include riding on an electric rodeo bull, running around a massive candy cane, eating a traditional Swedish Christmas meal of porridge, kicking Christmas presents and competing in a sack race.

In order to better prepare himself for the games, Ko practised by running around a massive candy cane for a whole afternoon, training himself to finish the task within 15 seconds. But there were two tasks Ko could not practise for because they were kept confidential until the day of the competition.

Riding on the electric rodeo bull was one of the unexpected tasks. It required contestants to grab the bull tightly to stay on while it bucked back and forth and side to side. Ko managed to stay on for 25 seconds but found this task the most difficult and physically demanding.

Behind the Santa Claus costume and rodeo heroics, Ko is a magician who loves to perform in a humorous and playful way. He sometimes wears a Mario Brothers costume to attract his audience’s attention. With his mop of curly hair, and his slim frame, Ko who claims to have forgotten his age, appears to be a young man in his thirties. He is hardly anyone’s idea of what Santa Claus should look like.

It was his sense of playfulness that attracted Ko to the Santa Claus Games, an experience he believed would be amazing and unforgettable. He shows Varsity his prizes from the games – a bronze medal, a wooden sceptre and a red cape and says the Santa Claus Winter Games were not about victory or defeat. It was about spreading love and care. He did not care about winning the games, but treasures the interaction with the participants from other countries and the experience of being a Santa Claus in Sweden.