Figure skating judging is a sport unto itself. It nearly defies rational explanation. So bear with us.

The decisions are made by a nine-judge panel, voting on three separate parts of the competition: the school figures, the short or compulsory program, and the long freestyle program. The school figures count 30 percent of a skater's final score, the short program 20 percent and long program 50 percent.

In the short and long programs, the judges issue two sets of marks, one for technical merit, one for artistic presentation.

But in figure skating, total points are actually beside the point. They do not usually determine the winner. Robin Cousins of Great Britain won the men's competition Thursday even though he had fewer points than Jan Hoffman of East Germany.

The skater with the most points on judge's ballot after each of the three events receives one ordinal from that judge, which simply means that the judge placed him first. The skater with the second most points gets two ordinals, and so on. If two skaters tie for first on a ballot, each receives one ordinal and the next skater gets three.

Anett Potzech of East Germany, for example, had nine ordinals after the school figures because all nine judges marked her first.

But the final winner is not necessarily determined by the fewest ordinals. The winner is usually the skater with the majority of first-place finishes. First the judges took to see if any skater has a majority of first-place finishes: five or more.

If only one skater has a majority of first-place finishes he or she wins. If no one has a majority of first-place finishes, the judges look to see who has the majority of second-place finishes, and that skater wins.

If two skaters have the same number of first-place finishes then the judges take the total number of ordinals awarded "in the majority" and the skater with the fewest number wins. Should the skaters still be tied, then the determining factor would be the number of ordinals awarded by all nine judges.

In the unlikely event that the skaters were still tied, the winner would be the skater with the most points.