Jonna nearly missed Olympic start |

Jonna nearly missed Olympic start

Michael Traum

Her hands thrown triumphantly in the air, Jonna Mendes crossed the finish line of her first Olympic race. But what none of the onlookers knew was that the young South Shore resident nearly didn’t make her Olympic debut.

“I almost missed my race,” said Mendes from Japan last Thursday at 11:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. Friday Japan time).

Mendes, 18, spent the time before Tuesday’s super-G waiting in a mountain-top restaurant with U.S. teammate Katie Monahan. Unlike U.S. racer Picabo Street, who started third and ultimately won the event, Mendes and Monahan were scheduled to ski back in the pack. With nearly 50 competitors in the super-G, the two were relaxing and catching their breath before the biggest race of their lives.

Then, finally, it was time to go. But there was a snag.

Super-G racers were required to ski down the mountain through the downhill course to get to the super-G start. But a course official wouldn’t let the two Americans on to the downhill course because it was being worked on.

Mendes pleaded her case, as she was soon to race. But the official wouldn’t hear it. She would have to ride the chairlift down, take another lift back up and ski over to the super-G start.

Worried, Mendes climbed aboard the lift headed down, which happened to go directly over the super-G course. As she floated helplessly above the race course, Mendes noticed that her start was just nine skiers away.

Since each race took no more than two minutes, the worry turned to genuine concern.

Once at the bottom, Mendes quickly boarded the other lift. As her ride crept slowly up the hill, she could hear the crowd and music pumping at the finish area. Her start was now just six away.

Once at the top, Mendes was just four places from missing her first Olympic race. She traversed at full speed to the super-G staging area, immediately stepped into the starting gate and went.

The rest, thankfully, is history.

“I was nervous that I wouldn’t get to go. I almost missed it. But, in a way, I didn’t have time to be nervous about the actual race,” said Mendes, who has since reviewed the race with team coaches. “There were no huge mistakes. My jumps weren’t stellar and I got thrown around a bit in the turns. I could’ve done better.

“But I didn’t care at all. I was 2.3 seconds out (of first place) and that’s the closest I’ve been all year.”

The deafening roar of the Japanese crowd signified its indifference to the young American’s 32nd-place performance. This was the Olympics and their money’s worth was being returned 10-fold as Mendes had just posted her best-ever super-G run and celebrated by dancing around the finish area.

“When I came through, I was waving my arms, screaming and dancing,” “The crowd was going crazy. All the horns were blowing and flags were waving. For as far as I could see, there was people. It was incredible.”

Mendes now has the downhill and combined races left in this, her first Olympics. And the South Shore resident said she’s using it all for one thing.

“Look out in 2002 (Salt Lake City). I’ll be ready. And on time.”

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