-- Perhaps one term best sums up the state of figure skating scoring: under construction.

For the foreseeable future, there is no one judging system that will prevail at every competition. Although the International Skating Union has been busily outlining a new and complex system, it is still very much in the works.

The U.S. Figure Skating Association held a news conference this morning in an effort to explain how things will function.

But even USFSA President Phyllis Howard, who is also a member of the ISU Council, admitted she doesn't fully understand some of the intricacies.

The new system requires judges to use a computer to rate each element of a skater's program. Every jump and spin, as well as a skater's choreography, will be calculated on a detailed points system.

If this system is implemented, the days of the perfect 6.0 score will be over.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is still a process," Howard said. "I'm not trying to sell this. I'm trying to get people to open their minds."

Adding to the confusion is that the USFSA has not decided if it will try to use this new system at its own national championships. The system cannot be used at the 2003 world championships March 24-30 at MCI Center, nor can it be used at the 2004 worlds.

So skating fans might see one scoring system at Skate America, one at the 2004 U.S. championships in Atlanta and yet another at the world championships in Germany. In fact, the new system cannot be used at the world championships until 2005 -- a year before the next Winter Olympics -- because it must first be approved at a figure skating congress meeting in 2004.

Is all of this too confusing for the viewing public? When asked, Ted Barton, a paid ISU consultant who has helped develop the new computer scoring system, said, "I don't think we can make it any worse."

Perhaps even more perplexing is the new system is that the question of accountability -- the issue that seemingly prompted so much of these radical changes in the first place -- remains to be resolved.

"You won't know who the judges are or whose scores counted," Barton said.

Accountability has become a prickly problem, especially in the wake of the Salt Lake City judging scandal, and one for which Howard continues to campaign. She supports strong sanctions, including lifetime bans, against any official who "betrays trust" in the sport.

Judges who have experimented with the new system this past season seem to like it. Three top-level U.S. judges who attended the news conference said they liked the fact that they could rate a performance accurately and quickly. And they called the system "more fair" because each element of a skater's program could be evaluated.

When Joe Inman, the U.S. judge for the women's event in Salt Lake City, first learned of the computerized system, he was opposed to it. Now, he claims, "I am a convert."

"Judges can no longer just say, 'I like that skater's style,' " said Inman, of Alexandria.

"What it forces the officials to do is stay in the here and now," added skating judge Charlie Cyr. "I have to rate that performance now."

Suspension Reduced

Three-time Olympian Kyoko Ina, who had been suspended for four years for refusing to take a drug test, has had her suspension cut to two years, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced.

Ina will not be eligible to participate in the Olympic Games, trials or qualifying events or use Olympic training facilities. Ina, who placed fifth in Salt Lake City with partner John Zimmerman, now tours with Stars on Ice.

Local Watch

Sarah Solomon and Benjamin Cohen, members of the Washington Figure Skating Club, placed sixth in the junior dance competition.