One night just about a year ago, Tai Babilonia got sick. Dick Button, the producer of the World Professional Figure Skating Championship, turned to John Carlow, a little-known show skater, and asked him to take her place in the team competition. Carlow, who never finished higher than fourth in the U.S. National championships, came out and "showed my stuff."

The fans, who had greeted warmly all the big-name skaters, ceased to be so polite. They went bonkers for him. "It was a little weird," Carlow said. "I called my dad and said, 'Listen to this, they're still going hyper.' Then we went out to get our trophies with Robin Cousins and Dorothy Hamill and the people were chanting my name. I said, 'I don't deserve it.' "

Carlow returns to Capital Centre tonight at 7 for the third annual World Professional Figure Skating Championship for the Avon Cup. Most skaters from last year's team competition will be there: Toller Cranston, Hamill, Oleg and Ludmilla Protopopov, Babilonia and Randy Gardner, Linda Fratianne, Janet Lynn, Charles Tickner.

Cousins, the 1980 Olympic champion, and John Curry, the 1976 champion, will not compete because they have signed exclusive contracts with Pro Skate, another figure skating championship, which will perform this weekend in New York.

Although both events provide figure skaters with professional opportunities after amateur skating, they are different. The World Professional Figure Skating Championship is a once-a-year event broadcast in segments on NBC television. Pro Skate intends to be a year-round Grand Prix circuit featuring head-to-head competition. This weekend's performance in New York, however, which will be televised by ABC, will include team and individual competition plus individual exhibitions.

Elba Claremont, producer of Pro Skate, agrees the format is confusing, but says ABC requested additional team competition "probably" to compete with NBC. Claremont says she does not perceive the two events as being in competition because "they are a TV event and we are a Grand Prix."

Button, the ABC commentator for the Pro Skate telecast, said, "We changed the face of competitive skating. They rode in on our coattails."

Claremont said Pro Skate has 48 skaters under contract and plans to tour 21 cities in 1983. As yet, there is no corporate sponsor for the tour, although Visa International is sponsoring the event this weekend.