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Original Issue

Falling on Your Butt

Six of America's greatest figure skaters describe their least favorite thing to do

SASHA COHEN,Current Olympian, 2006 U.S. champ You feel it when you're a little off in theair, and it's like: Uh-oh. When you fall you hear that "ohhhhhh" fromthe crowd, then a big hush. Which is how you feel inside, times a thousand.When you get up you've lost a couple of seconds. The programs are jam-packed:You have to hold the spins for a certain amount of revolutions, hold yourposition on the spirals. There's nowhere to make up the time. The toll is morethan falling on the jump. You'll lose points somewhere else, too; you're goingto be late for something--you choose what.

TARA LIPINSKI,1998 Olympic gold medalist I fell on a triple flip at Nationals in 1998. I'dalready landed my hardest jump, the triple Lutz, and I was feeling great. Thenmy edge slipped out on the landing of the triple flip, or maybe I jumped toobig. I couldn't believe it. I was thinking, This has to be a joke. Oh, my God!I'm not going to make the Olympic team! I never liked the triple flip afterthat, which is why I was so happy to land it a month later at the Olympics.

PAUL WYLIE, 1992Olympic silver medalist and, with partner Dana Graham, 1980 U.S. junior pairsnational champion One time in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, I was at a competition wherethe audience actually laughed when someone fell. It was customary. Andabsolutely humiliating. Falling is much more painful to the ego than anythingelse. Nowadays the crowd is into clapping encouragingly after you fall, tryingto get you to forget about it. But it's a little like when they tap hockeysticks on the ice after an injury. You know the second your bottom hits the iceon the combination jump in the short program your season's pretty much over. Inpairs in Paris in 1980 I was doing a lift, and when I put [Dana] down, her toepicks dug into the ice. She pitched onto her knees, and I fell on top of her.We were skating to the song Somewhere from West Side Story, and after a fallyou can lose your place in the program. As we were getting up, Dana asked,"Where are we?" "In France," I said.

BRIAN BOITANO,1988 Olympic gold medalist It's like time stands still. It's almost surreal,like it's not happening to you. I used to fall when I practiced my quad jumps,always hitting the same spot--the right hipbone. Some guys would fall there sooften that they would develop blood blisters and start wearing padded pants forprotection. I didn't like wearing them because they threw my timing off, so Istuffed foam rubber in my pants, the kind they use in furniture cushions. I'dhold it in place with an Ace bandage. I didn't do that in competition, but Ihave noticed that Japan's Fumie Suguri does. I can see the padding beneath hertights.

MATT SAVOIE, 2006Olympian and U.S. bronze medalist, who fell in both the short and long programsat Nationals this year You can't let yourself fall twice. That's what you'rethinking. You never start your music over in practice after you fall, becauseyou can't stop it in competition. You have to complete the rest of yourelements.

KRISTI YAMAGUCHI,1992 Olympic gold medalist and, with Rudy Galindo, two-time U.S. pairs champHearing the audience gasp is much more nerve-racking than the fall itself.After you fall, a sort of panic creeps into your mind. Scott Hamilton used tosay the next jump after a fall is the hardest one. You're trying to get backyour confidence. With pairs you feel less in control when you fall. In practiceonce, Rudy lost his footing while doing a platter lift. He was holding me overhis head, and I went head-first toward the ice, which is pretty scary fromeight or nine feet high. Ice is unforgiving. You learn early on in pairs thatwhen one of you falls, you both messed up. You have to take equalresponsibility.



Falling is kind of a shock.



You hear the crowd gasp, which is a real downer.



There's no trick to keeping composure after a fall.



Your body is more tense in competition; the falls hurt more.



Your brain really starts to shut down after the second fall.



All of a sudden I was on the floor.