The winner and still U.S. downhill champion: Tahoe’s Jonna Mendes |

The winner and still U.S. downhill champion: Tahoe’s Jonna Mendes

Jeremy Evans

MAMMOTH LAKES – South Lake Tahoe’s Jonna Mendes is no stranger to success at nationals. But when she discovered that this year the event was being held at Mammoth, she almost expected it.

“This is like a second home for me,” said Mendes, who celebrated her 26th birthday on Thursday. “I’ve probably raced here more than any other place in the world. I was excited for that reason but also because it’s so close to home.

“For my family, it’s always waking up at five in the morning and getting on the Internet and seeing if I won a race.”

Not this week.

In front of more than a dozen family members, friends and coaches, Mendes rebounded from a disturbance during her first run to win her second straight U.S. downhill on Friday at the 2005 Oroweat U.S. Alpine Nationals. Her time of 1:33.32 was more than a second faster than Tahoe City’s Julia Mancuso and Caroline Lalive, Steamboat Springs, Colo., who tied for second at 1:34.33.

Originally slated to race 30th, Mendes was flagged toward the bottom of her run after Leanne Smith, who started 29th, crashed in the finish area. Mendes was taken by snowmobile to the gondola loading station where she rode with three out-of-town skiers back to the starting gate. Once on the 11,053-summit and ready for a second attempt, she elected to race 42nd. Having already raced the two-thirds of the course the first time around, she was exhausted. But the stall didn’t seem to matter.

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“They were asking me all these questions and I was trying to stay focused and concentrate on the race,” Mendes said. “Ski racing has so many challenges and so many obstacles. It was not the regular preparation I’m used to. You get into a routine and follow it each time. Chances weren’t good that I was going to come down and win. If it ever happens again, I’ll be able to recall Friday’s race.”

“It was one her best races the whole year, this downhill at nationals,” said U.S. women’s ski coach Patrick Riml. “Jonna did a helluva of a job here. It’s not easy to get flagged and to do it again, especially to get the focus back.”

It was Mendes’ fourth career U.S. title. Mendes won the downhill in 2004 at Alyeska Ski Resort in Alaska. She also won giant slalom titles in 2001 and ’02, one of which was in front of several family members at Squaw Valley.

It was a banner weekend for Tahoe skiers in general.

Truckee’s Daron Rahlves, the 2001 super-G world champion, won Saturday’s super-G race in 1:16.63. It was his third national super-G crown and sixth overall title. He has also won two downhill crowns and a giant slalom.

Mancuso followed up her second-place finish in the downhill with another silver medal in Saturday’s super-G and a bronze in Sunday’s slalom, giving her three medals in three days. The results put her in strong position for a second consecutive overall title. In 2004, she won a record five medals at nationals, including four silvers in the four disciplines and a gold in the overall.

Mancuso will participate in today’s giant slalom, the final race for the women. She was awarded the women’s combined title on Sunday, which is given to the top finisher when combining times in both the downhill and slalom.

Nationals conclude on Tuesday with the men’s giant slalom.

“I was more skiing more for the combined win because I was not feeling the best in the conditions today in slalom,” said Mancuso, who had to battle snow, wind and low visibility on Sunday. “I didn’t have that great of a first run. I’m looking for a gold medal somewhere, maybe in the super-G.”