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South Tahoe’s Olympian will meet president

Michael Traum

Mr. President meet Ms. Mendes. She’s not sure exactly how the introduction will go. But Jonna Mendes knows part of her trip this week to Washington, D.C., will include an introduction to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The 19-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident and 1998 Nagano Olympian will join fellow Olympians in a whirlwind tour of the nation’s capital beginning today. Among numerous public functions, the undoubted highlight of the trip will include an afternoon reception and evening formal dinner at the White House Wednesday.

“I never really thought about all of the things that would come with being in the Olympics,” said Mendes, who competed in the super-G, downhill and combined events in Nagano. “I’ve been invited to dinners and to speak at functions. It seems everyone wants a piece of me. But this will be pretty cool.”

Mendes leaves this morning from Reno. The activities begin tonight with a Billy Joel concert. On Wednesday, she’ll speak to students at a local school and help dedicate a new Ronald Reagan building. Then she’ll attend a luncheon with other Olympians hosted Newt Gingrich. Finally, she’ll meet the president during a ceremony on the South Lawn and subsequently attend a formal dinner in the White House. She’ll come home Thursday.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people and the attention will be on the gold medalists,” said Mendes, an Olympic rookie who posted an impressive 17th-place finish in the Nagano downhill. “Being with the other Olympians will be the fun part.”

Mendes is wrestling with what to ask or say to the President. She expects to have just mere seconds with the country’s leader.

“What can you say that everyone else hasn’t already said to him? I don’t even know if we’ll get a chance to talk to him,” said Mendes, who, due to a broken right thumb, will have to greet the President with her left hand. “If nothing else, I want to get Bill and Hillary to sign my cast. Maybe they’ll remember me better that way.”

Mendes fractured her right thumb just one day before her second-place performance in the U.S. National downhill in mid-March. The pain didn’t keep her from completing the NorAm circuit finals a week later, where she finished second overall in the super-G standings. Other season highlights included a second place at the Junior Worlds and two top-30 World Cup finishes during a season-long tour of the circuit.

Now, with her thumb in a cast for at least four more weeks, Mendes can relax and reflect on her first year of skiing with the world’s best on the World Cup.

“This year was a total step up from anything I’ve ever done. All of a sudden I was at the highest level of skiing. It was a lot to take in all at once,” she said. “At the beginning, there was some doubt. You’re so many seconds and so far behind where the other girls are. It was so much more serious and not as fun. But now I’m used to it and know what to expect. There’s no doubt that I belong and I can improve every aspect of my racing.”

Mendes will begin summer training with the U.S. Team on June 10 in Mammoth. She’ll also travel to the Southern Hemisphere, most likely Chile, in late August for additional training. The speed-event specialist said she plans on developing her technical event skills, slalom and giant slalom, prior to her second season on the World Cup in November.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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