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The last time U.S. women figure skaters did not medal at the Olympics was 1994.

If the World Championships held in Los Angeles last week were any indication, next season is going to be a long, cold winter.

U.S. champion Alissa Czisny, she of the perpetual yips, dug herself such a deep hole in the short program that no amount of perfectly executed spins, spirals and jumps in the free skate could boost her into the top 10. Her short program was so atrocious that she was relegated to skating her finale in a black hole Saturday night before NBC prime time.

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Had Czisny finished the competition just three places higher -- in eighth -- she and teammate Rachael Flatt, a worlds rookie who finished a respectable fifth, would have secured three spots for the U.S. at the Olympics in February. Instead, it's just two.

"The outcome is not in my hands," said Czisny, 21, a lovely skater except when it counts. "There's nothing I can do about it."

Yes, that must have been someone else out there on her skates.

Flatt, 16, appears to be the real deal, an athlete who just gets better and better with experience and seems to have had all of her nerves surgically removed.

That's one U.S. skater in the Olympic mix. The others?

Kimmie Meissner, 19, the 2006 world champion and 2007 U.S. champion from Bel Air, has Olympic experience and says she's over the hip injury that ended last season early. There's a pair of 15-year-old skaters: 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, who was hobbled this year by a growth spurt and a foot injury; and Caroline Zhang, former junior world champion and U.S. 2008 bronze medalist.

Sasha Cohen, 24, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, might or might not return. Her showing in Turin means she get an automatic berth to the U.S. championships in January, where the Olympic team will be selected.

Michelle Kwan, a five-time world champion and nine-time U.S. title holder, said on NBC that she is training, "very seriously ... I've got my triples down ... I haven't been home eating potato chips."

But Olympic figure skating is a younger woman's sport. At the 2006 Winter Games, Japan's Shizuka Arakawa, 24, became the oldest woman to win Olympic gold in more than 80 years. The previous "geezer" was a 27-year-old Brit at the 1908 Olympics.

When pressed on her plans, Kwan, who will be 29 by the next Olympics, said, "You've got to see what the competition is."

If that's the case, she might want to keep working on her gig as an NBC analyst. As good as Kwan was in her hey day (1996-2004) -- and she was a joy to watch -- the future appears to belong to women a decade younger. Kim Yu-Na of South Korea easily grabbed the world title from Japan's Mao Asada, who finished fourth.

Kim, 18, left everyone in her rearview mirror with a tremendous short program that was just a preview of her free skate. But she didn't let up in the free skate and, with a combined score of 207.71, she became the first woman to break the 200-point mark.

It's hard to think of anything Kim can't do, and that includes standing atop the podium in February.

"You can't keep your eyes off her," Kwan said. "She has the whole package. It's unstoppable."

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Asada, also 18, is a two-time Grand Prix Final winner in addition to being the 2008 world champion. She is Kim's artistic and athletic rival and has a triple axel in her arsenal that she's not afraid to use.

Other skaters look strong, as well. Worlds runner-up Joannie Rochette of Canada beat Kim and Asada in the free skate at other competitions. Rochette, 23, has a tendency to be a little too workmanlike as she goes about checking off the elements in her program, but that's fixable.

Japan's Miki Ando, 21, has now bested teammate Asada twice on the world stage, taking the gold in 2007 and the bronze this year (an injury forced her to withdraw last year). Her problem is that while she easily completed her jumps Saturday night, there was no artistic glue holding those leaps together as part of a whole program. Again, fixable.

So where does that leave U.S. women?

"Improving," said Kwan on NBC, which has shelled out $820 million to broadcast the Winter Games and has to hope she's right. "We have to learn from this: Get stronger, work on the jumps, get faster, get consistent."

And all in the next 10 months.

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