Don't Worry, It's Just A False Alarm!

Serious falls, costume mishaps and of course, Tonya Harding's famous skate lace incident at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer... these are the things we tend to first think of when it comes to interrupted skating performances. Strangely enough, false fire alarms have more than once weaved their way into figure skating history.

One time a fire alarm went off in a hotel in the middle of the night and famed Canadian coach Osborne Colson refused to leave his room, saying he'd rather die in the fire than be seen in his pajamas. At the 1984 World Championships in Ottawa, a fire alarm went off at the Holiday Inn where many skaters, coaches and officials were staying at four thirty in the morning. They all clambered down to the lobby in their white fluffy bathrobes, only to be told it was a mechanical false alarm.

Twenty one year old Jozef Sabovčík of Czechoslovakia slept through it and finished strong fourth in the men's school figures. Ironically, Jozef later admitted to setting off a fire alarm in the middle of the night after a Skate Canada competition to see the women without their make-up on.

At the 2003 World Championships in Washington, D.C., Brian Joubert of France was awoken in his hotel room at one in the morning by a fire alarm that went off for twenty five minutes. He couldn't fall back asleep, had a practice session at six and was second to skate in his qualifying group that day. He placed a disappointing ninth in his group and later told reporters he thought the alarm had something to do with "the war".

Three of the most memorable fire alarm stories happened in the late nineties. At the 1996 Canadian Championships in Ottawa, someone broke the glass and pulled a fire alarm three minutes and fifteen seconds into Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz's four minute free skate. Wirtz had suffered a concussion during a recent practice session and the loud noise disoriented him. At first, they thought it was a program with their cassette tape. P.A. announcer Wilf Langevin said, "We think it's the fire alarm. That was not part of the program. Just relax for a minute, Kristy and Kris." They were given the option of restarting the program or picking up where they left off. Kris told the referee, "Are you nuts? I may not make it to the end as it is." The team chose the latter option, earned a standing ovation and won the silver medal behind Michelle Menzies and Bombardier.

Sargeant and Wirtz's silver medal at the 1996 Canadian Championships earned them a ticket to the 1996 World Championships in Edmonton... where an another fire alarm went off. Ten seconds before the free skate warm-up for the second to last group of women was to end, the noise began. The problem was quickly solved but it further unnerved an already off kilter Midori Ito, who was first to skate in the group. The former World Champion made several mistakes and placed a disappointing seventh.

Three years later at the 1999 Sun Life Skate Canada International event at Harbour Station in Saint John, New Brunswick, six foot three Laurent Tobel took to the ice to perform his "Austin Powers" free skate. Not long into his program, the fire alarm went off. The funny Frenchman ignored the noise and skated his program unphased. His wonderful sense of humour won over the Atlantic Canadian crowd and the alarm stopped practically when his program ended. Disappointingly, he received marks between 4.6 to 5.5, which earned a chorus of boo's from the audience. Mia Urquhart of the "New Brunswick Telegraph Journal" joked, "And, by the way, to whatever idiot pulled the alarm: 'Oh, behave!'"

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":