Do Jonna, Marco have more thrills in store?
With their best event yet to come and the U.S.’s most impressive Olympic downhill runs in the books, Lake Tahoe’s Jonna Mendes and Marco Sullivan are poised for more greatness this weekend.
“I just have a feeling that something is going to happen. Jonna’s either going to try too hard or she’s going to nail it,” said Noel Dufty, Mendes’ former coach from Heavenly Ski Foundation. “I think we’re going to get a surprise. I really believe it.”
Dufty’s confidence in Mendes isn’t as biased as it appears. Mendes has been the U.S.’s hottest speed skier of late, stemming from her pair of top 20 World Cup finishes before the Games began.
“I know she’s disappointed in that (11th in downhill) and that will spice it up for her in super-G,” Dufty said. “It will just motivate her. She was really keying on a top 10.
“And I’m totally convinced that she should be top 10 or top 5. She’s starting to peak after the injury, and she was hoping it would happen here, for sure.”
In NBC’s TV coverage of the women’s downhill on Tuesday, Mendes initially appeared disappointed when she crossed the finish line in 11th. She had a near-flawless run, but deteriorating snow conditions slowed her down more than she anticipated. The 22-year-old Mendes finished 1.41 seconds behind winner Carol Montillet of France.
“I didn’t go into it thinking I’d be happy with 15th or better. I went out there to medal,” Mendes said. “A lot of people were happy with my run. I’m not beating myself up over it. That’s pretty much what I could do. That’s what I got.”
With great grandmother Billee Paul, mother Kellie Ford, father Joe, brother Jory, sister Chelsea, numerous cousins and fans from Lake Tahoe showing support like she’s never had before, Mendes is expecting another good result in super-G Sunday.
“My best shot was in the downhill (Tuesday), but stranger things have happened,” Mendes said. “The Olympics are the ultimate race for underdogs to go in there and win. A lot of seasoned racers who have been medalling all of their lives, maybe they get too much pressure put on them. And you see people that normally don’t expect to medal, medal. I’m hoping I’m one of those people.”
As surprising as Mendes’ performance was, Sullivan’s downhill showing was even more so.
The 21-year-old from Tahoe City barely qualified for his first Games, making it despite an injured shoulder. The World Cup rookie’s best result was a 27th-place finish, but he pulled it all together Sunday with the USA’s top run — ninth place.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it has been,” said his mother Rena, the director of human resources for Kirkwood. “For him to be in the top 10 is more than he could ask for. That was his goal, so he’s very happy with himself.”
Mom, though, is disappointed that her son and Mendes didn’t receive more fanfare for their top U.S. performances.
“Jonna was fabulous. I don’t think she got what she deserved,” Rena said.
But that recognition could come with another high finish this weekend.
“He’s feeling very confident. He’s definitely ready to go out and do his stuff,” Rena said.
The men’s super-G is at 9 a.m. Saturday and the women’s at 9 a.m. Sunday. Both races will be shown by NBC in prime time.