By David Gignilliat
The Lake Tahoe skiing world reasserted its reputation as an enclave for world-class athletes yet again as a trio of local athletes were named to the U.S. roster for the 1999 World Alpine Championships Jan. 30 through Feb. 14 in Vail, Colo.
Area racers Wisi Betschart (South Lake Tahoe), Jonna Mendes (South Lake Tahoe) and Daron Rahlves (Truckee) claimed three of the 17 spots on the men’s and women’s teams.
“I think it says a ton about the area that we have three in the competition,” said Mendes, 17th in downhill (and a surprising 14th in Alpine combined) in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. “I don’t know what happened here five years ago, but ever since then it seems like we’ve had a good amount of Tahoe skiers on U.S. ski teams.”
Betschart’s inclusion on the roster may come as a surprise to close followers of the U.S. Alpine team. The Swiss-born racer made his World Cup debut in 1996, but has only competed in one World Cup event this season, grabbing the 30th spot in a super-G Nov. 27 in Aspen.
Betschart is currently competing in the Europa Cup circuit; he qualified for the Worlds with a fourth-place showing at a super-G in northern Italy earlier in the season.
“Last year, when I got only two top 30s (in World Cup events) and was named to the Olympic team, I was kind of in the same position that Wisi is in right now,” said Mendes, 19, who jumped from relative obscurity to a full-time 1998-99 World Cup schedule with her breakthrough Nagano performance. “I think it’s a great opening for him and I hope he takes advantage of the opportunity and skis very well.”
The two-week event, which will be televised on NBC, ESPN and ESPN2, will feature 12 U.S. Olympians and includes nine men and eight women.
After three weeks with nary a day’s rest, Mendes returned to the United States on Sunday for a much-deserved break from her hectic European World Cup schedule.
“It’s been pretty exhausting,” said Mendes, whose best World Cup finish this season was 19th at a Nov. 29 super-G at Lake Louise, Alberta. “I’m going to try to lay low, maybe train for a few days and that’s about it.”
After worlds, Mendes said she plans to compete in a handful of Nor Am events before heading to Praloup, France, the first week of March for the Junior World Alpine Championships.
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