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U.S. women skiers slow on home snow

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ASPEN, Colo. -- After a weekend of the only World Cup women's ski racing to be held on U.S. snow this winter, the best thing you could say about the U.S. ski team is that, well, it was certainly a gracious host.

A parade of European ski racers took their places on the podium at Aspen Mountain, with little resistance from the somewhat shell-shocked Americans.

Sunday, the two most decorated female skiers in the last five years, Anja Paerson of Sweden and Janica Kostelic of Croatia, went 1-2 in a World Cup slalom. Kristina Koznick in 14th and Julia Mancuso in 19th were the top U.S. finishes.

In the previous two races, U.S. skiers had a best of fifth place by Kirsten Clark in the super-G on Friday and 12th by Mancuso in the giant slalom Saturday.

Six World Cup races into this Olympic season, the U.S. women have produced one podium result, a victory by Lindsey Kildow in a downhill last week in Lake Louise.

The home snow in Aspen produced pretty much a lost weekend for Kildow and Mancuso, the promising 21-year-old, four-event racers who hope to battle the Europeans for Olympic medals in Torino.

The U.S. skiers head for Europe, with, they say, their confidence intact. "We don't want to peak now," Kildow said. "We want to peak in February."

Sunday was a particularly disappointing day for Koznick, the 30-year-old slalom specialist from Burnsville, Minn., who fought back tears in the finish area.

Koznick, who trains separately from the U.S. team, has six career World Cup wins, all in slalom and none in North America. She has said this could be her last season.

"I would have liked to win a World Cup race in the United States," she said. "I just have to keep my head up and keep going."

The U.S. women's team, though deep and talented, got a preview in Aspen of what it will be up against in Torino -- namely, Paerson, Kostelic and the ever-powerful Austrian team, which got to the podium four times in three races.

Speedskating: The debut of the Torino Winter Olympics' long-track speedskating oval yielded slow times but did boost the host nation's hopes for winning its first Olympic medal in the sport.

In a three-day World Cup event, Italy's Enrico Fabris won the men's 1,500 meters in 1 minute, 46.46 seconds on Sunday. Fabris' time was more than three seconds off the world record held by the USA's Shani Davis. Fabris also led Italy to victory in Saturday's team pursuit.

"This is the best I think we could expect," Fabris said. "It's very emotional for me to get this World Cup victory in Italy."

The USA's Chad Hedrick finished third after a slow start. He headed home happy, however, as he begins a Christmas break before the Dec.27-31 USA Olympic trials in Salt Lake City.

Hedrick won Friday's 5,000 meters and was one of the few skaters who felt totally comfortable on the slow ice. With the speedskating arena's opening more than a year overdue, officials still were testing ways to keep the ice firm, to create glide.

"I think you're going to see people going through a lot more pain here," Hedrick said. "I hope it stays just like this for the Olympics."

Saturday, Hedrick led the USA to a second-place finish in the team-pursuit event, which secured an Olympic qualifying berth for the Americans.

Jennifer Rodriguez, winner of two bronze medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics, provided the USA's only other medal, finishing third in Sunday's 1,000 meters.

Contributing: Tom Weir reporting in Torino

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