This FAQ list was formerly posted monthly to rec.sport.skating.ice.figure. You can get to the HTML version from SkateWeb at URL:
Here is the official charter for this newsgroup:
This group provides a forum for discussion of amateur and professional figure/artistic skating, including figures, freestyle, pairs, dance, and precision team skating. Articles from both participant and spectator or fan perspectives are appropriate in this group.
Appropriate topics for discussion in this group include: amateur and professional skating competitions and exhibitions; activities of competitive and professional skaters; rules and organizations governing the sport of figure skating; and equipment, technique, training, and instruction issues.
While the primary focus is figure/artistic skating on ice, discussion of corresponding inline or roller skating topics is not precluded.
There's some overlap in between the groups, and where to post depends on your skill level, your own attitude about your skating, and the specific topic you want to post about. The recreational skating group is the place to discuss topics related to learning to skate and basic skills. Discussion of more advanced technique and topics relating to testing or competing are welcome in rec.sport.skating.ice.figure. Cross-posting is acceptable for articles relevant to both groups.
It's a good idea to "lurk" for a while in either group before you post. This way you will get an idea of the appropriate topics and style of discussion in each group.
This article is the first of five FAQ lists devoted to competitive figure skating:
You may also be interested in the FAQ lists for the other groups in the rec.sport.skating hierarchy:
- Competitive Figure Skating FAQ: Introduction and Netiquette
- Competitive Figure Skating FAQ: Rules and Regulations
- Competitive Figure Skating FAQ: Technical Elements
- Competitive Figure Skating FAQ: Skating People and Events
- Competitive Figure Skating FAQ: References
FAQ lists are posted periodically (usually monthly) to the relevant newsgroups, as well as to news.answers. You can also get copies of all Usenet FAQ lists by anonymous FTP from host rtfm.mit.edu, or by WWW from URL
- Welcome to rec.sport.skating.*
- Skating Book FAQ
- Recreational Figure Skating FAQ list
- Conventional (Quad) Roller Skating FAQ
- Inline skating FAQ listhttp://www.faqs.org/
You can also get to the skating-related FAQ lists from the Figure Skating WWW Page at URLhttp://www.frogsonice.com/skateweb/
Usenet news is a protocol for exchanging messages between computers, not a message board or mailing list. The normal way to access Usenet newsgroups is by using a news reader to connect to a news server.
Many web browsers (such as Netscape Communicator) include a built-in news reader. If your browser supports news and you have configured it correctly (your ISP should provide you with a name of a Usenet news server to connect to), you can use the URL news:rec.sport.skating.ice.figure.
There are also several standalone Usenet news reader programs you can use. Some of the more popular ones are Gnus, Pine, and Tin.
Nearly all major ISPs (including AOL, Earthlink, Prodigy, etc) provide access to a Usenet server as part of their standard packages. If your ISP doesn't, you can sign up for various commercial subscription Usenet services instead.
There are also some web page gateways that allow you to browse or search Usenet newsgroups, like the one at Google, and the special-purpose gateway at SkateWeb. And, you can get Usenet messages delivered to your mailbox by subscribing to the service offered by news2mail.com.
Beward that the user interface provided by these gateways can be hard to use -- if you want to read the group regularly, you are better off getting a "real" news reader program, which will have features like threading and message filtering to make life easier for you.
You can post to rec.sport.skating.ice.figure using your news reader or the Google gateway.
The default behavior of many news readers is to hide articles that you've already read. Read the documentation for your news reader (or ask your system administrator) to find out how to turn this off.
For a longer-term archive, try using the searchable Google archive (formerly Dejanews) at http://groups.google.com/.
Here are some general abbreviations used all over Usenet:
And here are some terms specific to skating:
- frequently asked questions
- in my humble opinion
- read the [friendly] manual (or FAQ list!)
- by the way
- laughing out loud
- rolling on the floor laughing
- the (imaginary) sound of someone being dropped in your killfile
Technical terms for jumps, spins, etc. are defined in the Technical Elements FAQ.
- practice of compulsory figures (figure eights and so on); so called because each skater is assigned a "patch" of clean ice to work on.
- "moves in the field"; a series of footwork patterns that are part of the USFSA test program for skaters. (In Canada, there is a similar test track called "skating skills".) Confusingly, the ISU has also adopted the name "moves in the field" to refer to the sequence of spirals, spread eagles, and other edge moves which is one of the requirements for a well-balanced long program.
- Some people use this term incorrectly to refer to what is now called the "original dance". It used to be called the "original set pattern dance" and have significantly different rules.
- synchronized skating
- A competitive event where teams of skaters perform drill-team-like maneuvers on the ice, like pinwheels and intersecting lines. The emphasis is on footwork, maintaining precise formations, and doing complex transitions between formations. (This discipline was formerly known as "precision skating" in North America.)
- Fours is to pairs what pairs is to singles skating. A fours team consists of two men and two women who execute singles and pairs elements in unison as well as death spirals, lifts, etc that involve all four members of the team. It used to be a regular competitive event up until 1950 or so, but is now seen primarily in exhibitions.
- adagio skating
- Show-style pair skating, with the emphasis on extended lifts and other "tricks" like Detroiters and head-bangers that aren't allowed in eligible competition, and little or none of the side-by-side jumps or spins that are expected in competitive-style pair skating.
- A training technique developed by choreographer Uschi Keszler. The skaters do very deep edges in a near-horizontal position low to the ice, holding on to something like a water bottle to support themselves (hence the name). Several skaters, notably ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz, have incorporated these movements into their competition and/or exhibition programs.
- (verb) refers to medal-winning (or otherwise memorable) performances that are cut from the TV broadcast of an event; in honor of Michael Chack, whose bronze-medal free skate at 1993 US Nationals was "chacked". Can also be used reflexively; a skater who turns in a poor performance may chack himself out of a broadcast or competition, or alternatively be the victim of a "mercy chacking". Yet another usage of "chack" refers to pre-emption of an entire network skating broadcast by a local TV station.
- a stunning upset by a comparatively unknown or unhyped skater who manages to turn in a spectacular performance at the best possible time. Also known as a wylie, rudy, or galindo, after more recent examples.
- refers both to the act of tripping over one's toe picks and falling on one's face, and the cut/scar one gets on the chin by doing so; in honor of pair skater Mandy Woetzel, who had such a fall at the 1994 Olympics.
- obsessed fans of particular skaters who have a habit of making interminable arguments to "prove" that their favorite is the greatest skater who ever lived. If their favorite ever loses a competition, the typical borg reaction is to construct elaborate conspiracy theories about how the event was rigged, claim that the rules or judges "discriminate" against their skater, and/or launch venomous attacks on all the other skaters in the event. This term was originally used to refer to a particularly obnoxious subset of Brian Boitano fans, but it's now being used in a more generic sense since other skaters have borgs, too. Note that "borg" refers to a group of people with a kind of collective hive mentality, not just individuals who go overboard in their fandom.
- The "Champions on Ice" tour, also known as the "Tour of Champions" or the "Tom Collins Tour". It's the show that goes on a lengthy tour of the US following the world championships, featuring a large cast of both eligible and professional skaters. They also do a winter tour with only the professional skaters. This tour is produced by Tom Collins Enterprises.
- "Stars on Ice". It's a major ice show that tours the US in the winter season, featuring a smaller ensemble cast of elite professional skaters. This tour is produced by IMG.
- A nickname for the World Pro competition formerly produced by Dick Button's Candid Productions. For many years it was held annually in Landover, Maryland. Before Button sold the rights to this event, it both changed venue and became a rather bland pro event indistinguishable from any other made-for-TV competition.
- A made-for-TV pro, pro-am, or invitational competition with "cheesy" irregular rules and judging. Generally includes all team-format competitions, competitions with celebrity judges, competitions where the skaters are paid appearance fees, and the like. (The term "cheesefest" particularly derives from one such event held in Wisconsin, land of cheese, which featured no rules and winners determined by polling the audience.)
- Generic Female Ballad, the inevitable musical choice of far too many skaters. Less frequently used acronyms are GMB (Generic Male Ballad) or GMBS (Generic Male Broadway Song).
- Stone-faced Asian Warrior (a reference to typical program choice of many male skaters rather than ethnicity).
- cold spot
- a solo exhibition program in the skaters' standard repertoire that they can perform in a variety of show situations (as opposed to programs choreographed specifically to fit the theme of a particular show).
- puberty monster
- normal teen-age growth spurts and weight gain, which can destroy the careers of young skaters who have problems adjusting their technique as they grow into their adult bodies.
- Olympic Gold Medal
- Olympic games (from the five rings)
- The "Code of Points", the new judging system adopted by the ISU in 2004.
- The "Grade of Execution" assigned by judges to elements under the CoP.
Rec.sport.skating.ice.figure is an unmoderated newsgroup, which means that nobody has to approve the articles you post before they appear. Instead, we rely on the voluntary cooperation of contributors to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high.
Here are some specific hints for being a good net.citizen. Don't be put off by the length of this list! Most of these suggestions are just common sense.
And, here are some reminders about general Usenet netiquette:
- Some people like to watch tape-delayed competitions on TV without knowing the results in advance. If you are posting competition results or discussion of the results, use a subject line that clearly indicates that your article contains results (e.g., use the words "RESULTS" or "SPOILER"). Don't give away the results in the subject line!
A note about "spoilers": when competitions are not shown on TV until weeks or months after they happen, it is not reasonable to expect others to remember to put spoiler warnings on all mentions of the results in the meantime. It can be very difficult to avoid making reference to competition results when discussing current events in skating. In addition, this is an international newsgroup and people who live in other countries can't be expected to keep track of what events have been shown on TV where you live. If your enjoyment of a tape-delayed event is going to be totally ruined by seeing results in advance, your best strategy might be to unsubscribe from the newsgroup in the meantime.
- Many readers won't have the slightest idea who you're talking about if you refer to skaters by nicknames like "Lime Tree Man", or even "Babs", "Masha", and the like. Even if you have to guess at the spelling, use their real names. Also, avoid obscure abbreviations like "S&P", or using first names only unless you've explicitly established which Brian, Oksana, or Alexei you're referring to.
- Make an effort to get your facts right. A lot of discussion in this newsgroup is based on opinion, but informed opinions tend to be taken more seriously than those based on misinformation or ignorance.
- Don't post unverified second-hand rumors or malicious/defamatory gossip about skaters (or their coaches or parents). Likewise, don't believe every rumor you see posted here -- for example, "news" that some skater has decided to turn pro, or that a pair or dance team has broken up. It sometimes happens that so many people repeat or comment on or speculate about a rumor that it's hard to tell what the truth is. Instead of propagating the rumor further by posting followups, look for confirmation from reliable sources such as news reports or people who have spoken directly with the skater or their parent, coach, or agent.
- Before you post an article ripping some skater's character to shreds simply because they were caught on-camera making some less-than-tactful remark, or even just looking surly backstage, consider whether you might be jumping to the wrong conclusions. The glimpses we see on TV of skaters' personalities and lives are too brief and too often taken completely out of context to tell us what they were really thinking.
- Keep a sense of perspective and tolerance; don't go off the deep end just because someone disagrees with you or insults your favorite skater. Articles that present calm and well-reasoned arguments are much more effective than name-calling, nasty sarcasm, and the electronic equivalent of shouting. Rudeness reflects badly on you and people will tend not to take anything you say very seriously. If something said here upsets you, wait until you calm down before composing a response.
- Respect the rights of others to hold differing or contrary opinions. It is not your duty to "convince" anyone, nor to act as a "spokesman" for a particular skater or cause. If you disagree with an opinion, organize your thoughts and state your case in one posting, rather than responding to every article or simply repeating the same theme over and over. When disagreements on facts or interpretations do surface, it is often more rewarding to shift to an e-mail interchange with a specific individual than to continue jousting in public.
- When discussing why you like your favorite skater, you shouldn't have to resort to deprecating or maligning all of his/her competitors, or their fans. People tend to be offended by this line of argument rather than convinced by it.
- Posting articles that have little or no content beyond rude personal insults directed at skaters will only make you look like a total jerk. And, before you post an angry rebuttal to someone else's article of this type, consider that it may have been a deliberate "troll" intended to stir people up.
- Never use this forum to make personal attacks on a fellow poster. Again, this only serves to make you look bad. Even if someone makes you the object of their spite, resist the urge to try to "defend" yourself with counteraccusations, because this only serves to draw out the unpleasantness even longer. Remember that your reputation in this newsgroup is determined by the kinds of articles you post, and that sniping at other posters or getting involved in endless rounds of public name-calling will do nothing to make you gain respect here. On the other hand, if you consistently contribute thoughtful, humorous, and/or well-written articles to this newsgroup, the "regulars" here will respect you enough to disregard any attacks made against you by the clueless.
Finally, a word about a Usenet tradition that has taken on a life of its own in r.s.s.i.f: Godwin's Law. This started out as a general observation about Usenet culture: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in many newsgroups that dragging Hitler into an argument is a sure sign that all rational discussion of the topic has been exhausted, so the thread is over by common consent and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. In r.s.s.i.f, this has been taken one step further -- when an argument has degenerated into pointless name-calling, somebody will often post a followup mentioning Hitler in a tongue-in-cheek way just to signal the end of the discussion. "Basingstoke" has a similar use here. A thread is also considered to be over when it degenerates into a discussion about dance belts, and, as a special case, it is now generally agreed that any threads about Tonya Harding are over when Mike Tyson is mentioned.
- Before you post a request for information, check to see whether your question has already been answered in one of the FAQ lists, or if the information is available on the web.
- If you're posting to ask for information that is not likely to be of general interest, ask people to respond to you by private e-mail instead of by posting to the net. Likewise, use private e-mail for personal chit-chat with other group members instead of posting it.
- Don't post "me too" followup articles that don't add anything new to the discussion.
- Avoid quoting the entire article you're following up to. Some amount of context is desirable, but try to trim and/or summarize as much as possible. Be careful to attribute quoted material to the right people -- people become understandably upset when their name is associated with someone else's statements. When in doubt, it's better to trim off attributions entirely.
- Your messages will be more readable if you keep your lines less than 80 characters wide. Stick with plain ASCII text; don't try to post HTML or non-text word processor files, images, or other binary files. Put the text of your message in the body of your article, not as an attached file (not everyone is using a newsreader that can "see" attachments).
- Remember that Usenet is a public forum. You should probably use the same discretion about what you say here as you would in print or on TV.
This topic has already been discussed so much on the net that most people here have totally lost interest in reading any more about it. Anything worthwhile that could be said about the topic has already been said, over and over again. Please spare us any more!
The same goes for rehashing Nancy vs Oksana, "The Battle of the Brians", or any other close or controversial competition from the past. Generally, arguments about who "should have" won some competition (or complaints that your favorite skater "was robbed" of a medal) that continue for weeks, months, or even years afterwards are tedious and boring, and should be avoided.
Other recurring topics that have already been done to death:
- Arguments that the rules or scoring system must be broken because your favorite skater didn't win, or because you don't understand how they work. See the Rules and Regulations FAQ.
- Similar complaints about the judging. Judges do a difficult job under stressful conditions, and often have to interpret ambiguous rules or contradictory guidelines. Mistakes do happen, but outright incompetence or deliberate attempts to manipulate the results are rare.
- "Bashing" of skaters who don't stop to sign autographs or mingle with fans. Don't assume this is an ego/personality thing -- it's reasonable for skaters not to want to be distracted while they're working, or it may be the result of general security directives issued by the event management.
- Lists of favorite skaters, best programs, etc. There's nothing wrong with posting on these topics, but do include some discussion of why these are your favorites instead of just listing them. If you want to conduct a poll, ask people to respond by e-mail instead of posting.
- Arguments about the proper spelling of names transliterated from Russian or other languages that don't use the Roman alphabet, or about whether names of Chinese skaters (e.g., Chen Lu) should be given with the surname first or last. There's no single definitive "right way" to do these things, and as long as everyone knows who you're talking about, it's not worth fighting over.
Whether they're gay or straight, it's rude to post speculation or gossip about skaters' private lives or off-ice relationships. The consensus that has evolved over time in this newsgroup is that we don't discuss people's sexual orientation or personal life unless they have chosen to make some public statement about it themselves, or if it is otherwise a matter of public record (e.g., divorce or legal actions). If it would be rude to ask the skaters about it to their face, then it's rude to discuss it on the net.
Besides showing respect for the skaters' privacy, we also try to keep the focus of discussion here on skating rather than personal gossip about skaters. It's reasonable to discuss such things in the context of how it relates to the skater's artistic choices, or whether/how it affects their public image or the career opportunities they are offered or choose to pursue, but we have a low tolerance for gossip for its own sake.
You can find a list of skaters who are gay and who have chosen to discuss their orientation in public at http://www.plover.com/rainbowice/.
Critical discussion of what makes good and bad skating, in terms of both the technical and the entertainment or artistic aspects of the sport, is an essential purpose and function of rec.sport.skating.ice.figure. We participate in this newsgroup because we enjoy serious discussion of these issues; and multiple points of view and diversity of opinion help to broaden our understanding of the sport in general.
Elite-level skaters are entertainers and public figures as well as athletes. Being judged and compared and viewed critically is all part of their job, the same as for performing artists in other fields. If skaters were so thin-skinned that they couldn't deal with public commentary on their work, they wouldn't be in this business at all.
Criticism is often part of discussions of why skaters didn't get better marks from the judges, or what they need to do to improve or be more competitive. Such discussion isn't intended to be insulting or disrespectful to the skaters. Besides, there are probably more articles here expressing praise, excitement, encouragement, or other positive opinions, than negative ones.
Sometimes people argue that we shouldn't express criticism of skaters unless we could do a better job ourselves. This isn't a very convincing argument. After all, figure skating judges qualify by demonstrating that they are skilled at watching and evaluating figure skating, not at doing it. It's possible to have a lot of technical knowledge about the sport even if you're physically incapable of doing it yourself. Moreover, we are all qualified to express our opinions on whether we find skaters' performances entertaining or satisfying from an artistic point of view.
Sometimes people are bothered by seeing criticism of skaters because they're more familiar with other online forums that have a more "fannish" orientation, and/or because it's their own favorite skater who is being criticized. If you want to try to argue that the criticism is mistaken, feel free to join the fray, but you're unlikely to convince anybody just by whining that all is not sweetness and light here.
On the other hand, nasty personal attacks directed at a skater's character -- as opposed to their skating -- are not appreciated in this newsgroup. Mindless "skater X sucks" or "I hate skater Y" articles are not appropriate here, either; beware of trolls.
A "troll" is a deliberate attempt to cause disruption or start a flame war by posting misinformation, personal attacks, or outrageous claims. People who post trolls want to stir people up and provoke a response, and the best way to deal with them is simply to ignore them. They'll go away if they don't get the reaction they want.
Notorious examples of past RSSIF "trolls" have ranged from fairly harmless fictions, such as the poster who claimed Nicole Bobek is Australian, Kristi Yamaguchi is Mexican, and so on; to people who have apparently taken great delight in making cruel, spiteful comments about other netters' personal tragedies. Articles containing rude remarks about the (presumed) sexual orientation, physical appearance, or off-ice behavior or "morals" of various skaters are almost always "trolls", too.
In general, be suspicious of articles that contain nothing but inflammatory, rude, and offensive comments about skating or skaters, that make accusations about conspiracies or have some other obvious non-skating, political agenda. Some other warning signs that an article may be a "troll" are if it's from an obvious "newbie" to the group who is apparently more interested in insulting people than in discussing the sport of skating, or if the same poster has flooded the newsgroup with dozens of articles which all contain the same kind of insults directed at the same skater(s) and/or newsgroup regulars. Again, it's better to let these threads die a quick death rather than to try to refute them.
- Articles that don't fall within the charter of the newsgroup: "Spam", warnings about e-mail viruses, discussion of current news events unrelated to skating, and so on.
- Articles whose primary focus is gay-bashing, politics, religion, accusations of racism, flames about other people's morals, or other similarly volatile topics, rather than skating. Past experience has shown that discussions on these topics tend to quickly degenerate into emotional flamefests filled with hysterical ranting, appeals to people's religious beliefs, and claims that cannot be substantiated in fact.
- Discussion of current non-skating news events, no matter how important (e.g., the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center), unless you are posting about aspects that are specifically relevant to skating. Many people want to come to this newsgroup in order to take a mental break from the overwhelming, wall-to-wall media coverage of such events. In addition, when discussions of current events do break out in this group, they all too often degenerate into flamefests and personal attacks on other posters. Please, do everyone a favor and find a more appropriate forum for discussing these topics.
- Advertisements. Most people don't object to skating-related businesses announcing their web pages or contributing information to ongoing discussions, but people will be annoyed if you flood the newsgroup with sales pitches and advertising hype. If you are an individual with something skating-related to sell (for example, tickets you can't use) you can probably get away with posting an ad once, but if you regularly have items to sell, you need to find some other way to advertise them. Remember that advertisements add nothing to the discussions in this group.
- Copyrighted material such as news articles. The preferred way to share such things on the newsgroup is to post the URL to the online article, with a quick summary or a short quote or two.
In general, the best way to deal with SPAM, trolls, and other disruptive posts in the newsgroup is not to post follow-ups complaining about or responding to the inappropriate articles. (If you're looking for a newsgroup to discuss such problems in general, try news.admin.net-abuse.usenet.)
The easiest way to deal with persistent spammers and trolls is simply to ignore them. Most newsreaders support some form of filtering or killfiling by poster; read your help pages or other documentation to find out how to use it.
If someone is disrupting the newsgroup with inappropriate articles, you can also complain to their internet service provider or the Usenet news service they used to post the articles. (You'll need to examine the message headers to identify where the message originated; it doesn't always match the e-mail address.) Most ISPs have "terms of service" agreements prominently posted on their web sites that prohibit the use of their facilities for distributing SPAM, harassing or threatening others, and the like. Often these user contracts also prohibit disruptive or off-topic posting, or violating "community standards", in Usenet newsgroups and other online discussion forums. If you can't find an abuse complaint e-mailbox or other contact information listed on the ISP's web site, try an address of the form "firstname.lastname@example.org". When you complain to an ISP in this way, it's important to include a copy of the abusive message with complete message headers, and to be explicit about why you think it violates their "terms of service" agreement. If the spammer/troll has a history or pattern of disrupting the newsgroup, be explicit about that, too. And, try to be polite, too.
Be cautious about posting requests like this. Copying and shipping tapes is a hassle and it's unreasonable to expect random people on the net to do this for you as a favor. Also, keep in mind that making tapes of televised events for other than your own personal viewing is technically a copyright violation, and the more organized and large-scale your tape-copying activity is, the more likely you are to get into legal trouble for doing it.
Try to find tapes from commercial sources when possible. E.g., high-quality tapes of US Nationals, Skate America, Worlds, etc. are sold by Video Sports at 1-800-872-1996 or http://www.skatetape.com/. You can rent videotapes of many of these events by mail from the Skate Canada; contact them at 613-748-5635 (x2521) for a catalog. R&J Video at 209-476-0124 sells tapes of events including 1990, 1993, and 1996 US Nationals. Rainbo Sports at 1-800-752-8370 sells many popular commercial skating tapes.
One caveat: beware of commercial tapes produced by NBC Sports (such as their world championships compilations). The performances have been dubbed over with some horribly generic imitation music because NBC is too cheap or lazy to get the rights to the music originally used by the skaters.
Here are some other suggestions for tape-trading etiquette.
- Do not e-mail requests for tapes to individuals who post here unless they have specifically offered to trade tapes.
- If you know you will not be able to view or tape an event, try making advance arrangements with a friend or relative to tape the event for you instead of waiting until after the broadcast to try to find a copy.
- Try to find tapes locally before you bother the entire net with requests. Again, ask friends, relatives, and coworkers first. People who live near you may be willing to simply lend you their tapes, which is a lot less hassle than copying and shipping tapes long-distance. Also, if you belong to a skating club, chances are others there also collect tapes, and/or the club may have a library of tapes.
- If you must post a request for a tape, include "tape request" in your subject line so that people who aren't interested can skip your message.
- Don't post "me too" requests; e-mail these to the person who posted the original request. If someone is kind enough to share a tape with you, be prepared to share it with others as well. (One arrangement that has worked well in the past is a round-robin where the same master tape is passed around, instead of expecting one person to make copies for everyone.)
- People may be more willing to share their tapes with you if you can trade them something from your own collection in return. It's common to offer reimbursement for the tape and postage, but this doesn't recompense people for their time in making the tape for you.
First of all, do not ever use a flash for skating photography. You will be too far away from the skaters for it to make any difference for your pictures, and the flash could startle or blind the skaters and cause them to fall. If you have a cheap point-and-shoot camera that won't let you turn off the flash or adjust the exposure to take good pictures without one, you might as well leave it at home.
The TV lights used at skating competitions are very bright. Professional shows and competitions usually have lighting between f2.8 and f5.6 at 1/250 second on 800 speed film. One netter suggests taking a reading on white ice and then opening up two stops. Other netters report getting good pictures even on 400 speed film.
You will probably want to use a medium telephoto or zoom lens, e.g. 70-210mm. People who have tried using very long, heavy lenses and/or monopods at skating events report that it is too awkward to handle that much bulky equipment from the arena seats, and that you are also more likely to get hassled by the arena staff if you carry too much professional-looking photographic equipment with you.
Digital cameras are becoming very popular nowadays, but the 3x zoom lens and maximum 400 ISO rating on most low-end consumer models are not really adequate for skating photography. On the positive side, a digital camera makes it practical to shoot hundreds of photos at a time, even if only a fraction of them turn out well.
A web article with some good general information on sports photography can be found at http://www.photo.net/photo/sports/overview.
It's the undergarment typically worn by male dancers and skaters to provide both support and a smooth appearance under their tights or pants. They're made of lycra and elastic and look like tight briefs in front, with a thong back.
Most female skaters don't wear any underwear at all under their costumes, by the way, although some do wear a bra and/or lycra body stocking for support. And the tights that female skaters wear are typically quite thick and completely opaque, not ordinary sheer nylon pantyhose women wear with dress clothing.
One other clothing-related note: the heavily beaded and sequinned competition costumes skaters wear are usually neither washable nor dry-cleanable. This is one reason why skaters usually get new costumes made every year!
Contrary to the impression you may get from seeing Dick Button and Peggy Fleming on TV, people attending skating events as spectators don't normally wear formal evening dress. Fur coats are also considered politically incorrect these days.
The best advice is to wear something comfortable and dress in layers so that you can adjust to whatever temperature the rink is. Large arenas are usually warm enough that you'll be comfortable in a long-sleeved shirt or sweater unless you are sitting right at ice level. On the other hand, practice rinks can be very cold and you'll probably want to wear a coat as well as a hat and gloves, and possibly even bring an afghan or blanket. Don't forget sensible footwear and warm socks, too.
Some other things you might want to bring with you to the competition: a water bottle, food, binoculars, a notebook and something to write with, and a tote bag to put all this stuff in. Note, though, that competition organizers and venues are becoming increasingly restrictive about what may be brought into the arena; backpack-style bags seem to be a particular source of trouble. It's best to check in advance about policies about what may be brought in, or restrictions on the size or type of bags.
Most rinks do not mind spectators at "regular" practice sessions, although private rentals may be closed and a few rinks that cater primarily to elite skaters discourage visitors. It's best to call in advance and ask. Be aware that, for security reasons, most rinks will not give out specific practice times for specific skaters.
It's also a good idea to check in at the rink office when you arrive, so that people will know why you are there. Sometimes skaters, coaches, and parents do worry that strangers at the rink may be stalkers or child molesters. If people seem to be regarding you suspiciously, you can try introducing yourself and explaining that you are just there to watch the skating.
One helpful hint: if you are a paying customer at the rink, your presence is much less likely to cause concern. If you don't skate, spend some money at the snack bar or pro shop instead.
Do be discreet when you visit the rink and don't distract the skaters while they are on the ice or preparing to skate. Taking photos or video is a no-no.
Also be discreet in reporting what you see on the net. In particular, elite skaters' daily practice schedules shouldn't be publicized on the net for the same reasons that the rinks won't give this information out to the public over the phone. It is also considered bad form to publicly reveal the details of new programs you may see the skaters working on, unless you explicitly get their permission to do so. More generally, elite skaters deserve some privacy when working at their home rinks, and the freedom to do their thing without worrying that their every move in practice is going to be reported on the net, or that they are continually on public display or being spied on by people they don't know. Remember that you are a guest at their rink and that it is a privilege to be allowed to watch at all.
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