What Do I Do If ???
It was the anonymous Mr Murphy who once said "If anything can go wrong, it WILL go wrong". Well, he must have been a skater. When you are skating in a competition, you should focus on doing your best to make everything go RIGHT, but it never hurts to be prepared for some of the things that can go wrong, too.
Here's a compilation of some of the things I've seen "go wrong" during competition events. I've included a reasonable response for each eventuality. Your pro, who knows you better and who knows a little more about what is conventional in your area, might have different suggestions. If that's the case, its probably a good idea to follow his/her advice... Either way, its always a good idea to have at least thought about what you'd do if any of the following things come up.
About the Referee: the most important person to be aware of when something goes wrong is the event referee. The referee is a judge who is assigned to that event for the purpose of interpreting any questions of rules, etc and to decide what to do when something goes wrong. The referee will answer your questions, and will tell you what to do. If something goes just a little bit funny, your pro might be able to signal you what to do about it, but the referee will have the official "last word". The referee will be at the judge's table, usually seated at the end closest to the music or sound people. He/she will usually have a stopwatch in hand.
Most of the rules which have to do with during-the-program contingencies are found in the Rulebook, in section SSR 13 "Falls and Stops".
- Wrong Tape: If your tape starts, and you realize its the wrong one (somebody else's, or your tape from a different event), signal the referee immediately. Its ok if you start to skate for a second or two before you realize it, but stop as soon as you know there's a problem and signal the referee. The referee will probably ask you to approach and explain what is wrong. If its the wrong tape, he'll probably ask you to get your backup tape (which your pro should have ready at the ice door). Once they have the right tape, they'll ask you to go back to your starting position, then they'll usually re-announce you and your music will start.
- Tape starts in middle, not rewound: If your tape starts, and you realize its not at the beginning, follow the same suggestions as above. Signal the referee as soon as you know its wrong.
- Tape too quiet, missed start: If you fail to hear the beginning of your music, signal the referee as quickly as you can, just as if it was the wrong tape. Its ok if you briefly start skating once you finally hear the music going, but don't skate any longer than absolutely necessary, or the referee may decide not to let you restart. One thing you (or your pro) can do to help avoid this is to make sure your music doesn't start with a really quiet part. If it must start with a quiet part, you might consider putting a very short "beep" or "click" on the tape a second or two before the music starts, to help you know when its about to begin (note the timing for your program doesn't start until you start moving, so there's no time penalty for the beep)
- Tape quality is awful / warbly / sounds bad: If your tape sounds really awful and you can't skate to it (either because its unrecognizable, or because you can tell its running way too slowly or way too fast), you may signal the referee that there is a problem. The rules state that in the event of this type of problem, you must inform the referee within 30 seconds of the start of the program (SSR 13.03C). This particular issue is one that you've got to use a little judgment about. If its early in the program (first 30 seconds) and the quality is bad and you think it could be corrected, you should probably stop and approach the referee. If its later in the program, or think that the issue isn't fixable, then its probably best to just keep skating and make the best of it. The referee will rarely stop you if the music quality is bad, because he has no way of knowing if that's just the way your music always plays.
- Music stops in middle of program: If your tape stops playing in the middle the referee will probably signal you to stop skating so they can correct the problem. But, as above, he might not know if the silence is a problem, or merely an intended pause in the music. Make sure your tape doesn't have any long silent parts in it that might confuse the referee into asking you to stop when its really "ok". If they've been having a lot of trouble with sound at that competition, the referee might just prefer that you continue skating without the music anyhow...
- Tape doesn't start at all: If you're in your opening pose and the tape doesn't start at all, the referee will probably signal you to "relax". They'll fix the problem if they can. They may need a new tape if its a tape problem. They may need to try playing it a couple times to test things out. You should feel free to skate around a little bit and keep warm / loose while they figure it out. They will tell you when they're ready for you to go back to your opening position, and will usually re-announce you before the music begins.
- Lace comes untied or loose: If your laces become loose or untied while you're skating, stop immediately. Approach the referee and explain the problem. The rules (SSR 13.03A) actually state that the skater should stop at the signal of the referee, but if it was me, I'd stop as soon as I felt it pop. The referee probably wouldn't be able to see the problem until after you've got laces dangling all over the ice, and by then you'll be in serious hazard of injury. Even though its possible that you won't be able to convince the referee that a problem was developing, no competition placement is worth endangering your health or safety. Usually, the referee will give you 2 minutes to correct the problem then you can restart FROM THE POINT OF INTERRUPTION. If you cannot fix the problem within the 2 minutes then you will be considered withdrawn from the event (SSR 13.03B1). The rules no longer allow you to restart at the beginning of the program, or to skate at the end of the flight.
- Dress becomes loose, falls off, about to fall off: I've seen a couple of programs where the clasp that fastens a skater's dress on snaps or breaks and the dress falls off or starts to fall off. This is a situation where you have to balance your desire to complete the program against the likelihood of revealing parts of your anatomy that your mom would prefer remained private. If you stop when the clasp is merely loose, you might have a hard time convincing the referee that you were about to have a problem. On the other hand, if you wait until it pops off you may be showing off more than your skating ability. If it was me, I'd probably opt to preserve my modesty. Chances are the referee will allow you 2 minutes to make appropriate repairs then continue skating from the point of interruption (see above).
- Scrunchie / bobbie pin falls off during program: If you lose your hairpiece you can probably continue skating as long as do it with extra caution. The referee will probably try to signal you if it looks like you're about to hit it, but you should be very careful to maintain an awareness of where it is so you don't get too close. Don't forget to go pick it up after you take your bows.
- Fall during program: If you fall, you should first do a quick evaluation of how you feel. If you're injured, stop skating and wait for help if you need it. If only your pride is hurt, get up and continue. Put the fall out of your mind and don't let it "rattle" you. Focus on doing the rest of the program without incident (see the items below about what you may or may not be able to do to minimize the effects of the fall on your results).
- You do the wrong element in a Short Program: Too bad! But resist the urge to add in the right one later. In a Short Program there are very specific required elements, each of which may only be tried once. There is a deduction for doing the wrong element AND there is a penalty for adding elements. So, once you've done the wrong element, you've already gotten the deduction for doing the wrong thing. If you try to put in the right one later, you'll get an additional deduction for putting in the "extra" element. The same thing holds if you fall during a Short Program element.
- You do the wrong element (or fall) in a Long Program: There is no deduction for falls or repeated or additional elements in a long program (except for the restrictions on jump repeats). If you mess up on an element you are free to insert it again later if you feel it is important to your program. But try not to stress about it - judges are not supposed to put undue importance on any single element, and good ones will probably be more interested in the overall quality of your skating than they will be in seeing that one special element.
- Fall on approach to element, or abort takeoff in Short Program: What if you fall while you're on the approach to a jump or spin in a short program? Should you try the element again later? Or would it count as an "added element" the second time? Sorry, there is no right answer to this one. No matter what you do, at least one judge will take a deduction. The problem is one of interpretation - was it an attempt, or wasn't it?. But probably the best compromise answer is; if you never left the ice, you should try it again. If you got off the ground on a jump takeoff it will for-sure be counted as the jump. But if you never left the ground (for instance if your edge slips out from underneath you on the preparatory glide for the double loop) at least a couple judges will probably give you credit for a later attempt without penalizing you for an "add". Spins are a little tougher to generalize, but I'd say once you've entered the final edge that's going to start rotating, amost all judges would say you've committed to the spin - once you've done that its probably best not to repeat it. If you're still on that RBI glide that precedes your LFO entry edge, you might be able to disguise the attempt...
- Forgot program / lost: If you forget your program, do your best to make it look like you know what's going on. Avoid wandering aimlessly. If possible try to skate towards your pro and hope he/she can discretely remind you of what to do. One thing your pro can do to help you avoid this problem is to make sure your music is uniquely recognizable all the way through. If it has a lot of parts that sound alike its really easy for you to get confused and go off into the wrong segment. If every part of the music is unique and you practice it enough with the music to associate each part with its own elements in the program you'll be a lot less likely to get lost (and its a lot easier to get back on track if you have to stop and restart mid-program after an interruption).
- Loud Noise or Camera Flash Distracts You: What if you are startled by a noise or flash and it causes you to fall or lose your place in the program? There's no specific rule about this, and I'd say that in general the referee would make a judgment call based on the circumstances surrounding the event. Probably though it would have to be a VERY serious noise to motivate the referee to allow you to re-do anything. If this happens to you, you should probably get up and continue with your program as best you can. If the referee thinks that a reskate is warranted he will signal you to come over and talk about it. More than likely, most judges will recognize that you were distracted, and they will probably be a little more lenient in the marking of the affected element. If you complete the impacted program without reskate, and feel really compelled to ask for an opportunity to try over, you could approach the referee and plead your case. But I think that in general, if you do this you'd risk the possibility that some judges might think you're "whining" and they might let it impact your marks negatively.
- You forgot your tape: You can't skate without music (unless its a no-music event), however if you forgot to bring your tape you don't have to scratch. See if you can find a friend or another skater that has a tape of the proper length you can borrow. Even if its not really your music, it IS music, and SOME music is a lot better than NO music... Its likely that your program won't match the music very well, but at least you'll be allowed to skate. Usually there's at least a couple skaters in each flite who don't have a real tight connection to their real music anyhow, so you won't be totally disadvantaged.
- Someone else has the same music: No reason to panic. There's very few pieces of music that the judges haven't heard quite a few times anyhow. It doesn't matter if they hear it twice in the same event. Just try to demonstrate the "better" interpretation of the piece... Besides, if you watch, you might pick up some ideas that will work for you too...
- Your pro isn't there to "put you out": Sometime in your career this is bound to happen. Whether its a schedule conflict, a "forget", or a miscommunication, you may find it necessary to prepare for and warm up for an event without your pro's guidance. Its ok if this happens - your pro is there to help you, but the rules do not require that you have a pro available at event time. Try to remember what they've done with you at past competitions and do the same things. Hopefully, you've laid out a standard plan for warmups - just follow that plan. You'll need to pay extra attention to listening for the "1 minute warning" announcement because you won't have your pro to remind you. If you have a friend that's available and knows your general ritual, it might be worthwhile to have them stand at the door just to help keep you calm and on-track. Make sure that someone has a copy of your backup tape available.
- Referee blows whistle: The whistle is used to attract someone's attention. Most often it is used to tell the judges to stop judging if you skate beyond your time allotment (see Program Timing Rules). Its also possible that the referee might use it to tell YOU to stop, if he saw something dangerous about to happen (like you were about to hit your fallen scrunchie). So if you hear the whistle, do a quick assessment of what's going on around you -- if there's a possibility he wants to warn you of something, PAY ATTENTION, and act accordingly. If your program is nearly over, it probably just means you just ran out of time, in which case you should wind up gracefully (the judges won't count anything that happens after the whistle anyhow).
If you should come up with a new and creative "wrong", or if you have a suggestion for a better response to any of the above events, please email me and tell me about it so I can include it in this summary.