The International Skating Union yesterday continued its series of presentations explaining the new scoring system that is expected to be unveiled this fall at the sport's annual Grand Prix series. The technologically advanced system, designed with the hope of revolutionizing judging, will eliminate the current 6.0 scale and every aspect of skating will be graded with very specific criteria that will set the stage for world records.

ISU officials Peter Krick of Germany and Ted Barton of Canada led the presentation at MCI Center. U.S. judges Charlie Cyr and Joe Inman of Alexandria explained the push-button, video-oriented system.

"Since Salt Lake City, figure skating will never be the same," Krick said. "The loss of credibility goes along with a loss of public interest in all countries, which finally results in a loss at the financial end of it. . . . [Without this change] the future of our beloved sport would be endangered."

Several of the judges, including Inman, said they were dubious of the system before they learned about it and started working with it. Inman has helped develop the less concrete aspects of scoring, such as the choreography and music.

"I was a major, major skeptic," Inman said. "I decided I was tired of griping and thought, 'Let me take the time to look at this system.' . . . I just think this is a way to go. We'll see. There are great possibilities."

Americans in Same Group

The top three U.S. women were all placed in the same qualifying group during yesterday's draw, meaning only one American can finish first. The field is divided into two groups for the qualifying free skate, which is worth 20 percent of the total score.

Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes will immediately follow national champion Michelle Kwan. Sasha Cohen and Russian national champion Elena Sokolova are also in their group.

Via Azerbaijan

Even though ice dancers Kristin Fraser and Igor Lukanin represent Azerbaijan, they train in Laurel, and have been enjoying something of a hometown advantage. The duo placed fourth in their group in the compulsory competition, despite the fact Fraser kicked herself in a recent practice.

"There was a little blood shed," said Fraser, who has only been skating well the last two weeks after recovering from an ankle injury. "[Lukanin] always jokes that I'm not happy unless I'm injured."

Fraser said she "was in a somewhat unpleasant partner relationship" and came to Maryland, where coach Genrikh Sretenski had been working with Lukanin for three years. Their best finish this year was 10th place at the European championships. They practiced last Friday in Laurel and recognized some familiar faces yesterday at MCI Center.

"There's an old man who comes and watches us every afternoon and eats his lunch during our practice and he was at practice today so that was great," said Fraser, originally from Palo Alto, Calif. "It's kind of neat to be able to see all those people."

Made by Mom

U.S. ice dancer Tanith Belbin takes extra pride in her costumes; her mother, Michele, makes them. Belbin wore a lavender dress with sequins during compulsory ice dancing and one reporter asked if her mother shops at JoAnn Fabrics.

"That's exactly what she does," Belbin said. "She's a real pro."