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Last chance for Torino

Steve Yingling and Jeremy Evans
South Lake Tahoe's Jonna Mendes speeds down the course Thursday on her way to setting the sixth-fastest time during a practice run for today's World Cup downhill in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Mendes will likely need a podium to make her third Olympics.
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This is it.

To make the U.S. Olympic snowboard and ski teams, athletes have two final chances this weekend to realize their dreams.

Two-time Olympian Jonna Mendes has struggled in her 10th season on the U.S. Ski Team, but she has a final opportunity this weekend to make her third Olympic Games.

Although it may take a World Cup podium finish to do so, Mendes races in a downhill today and a super-G on Saturday.

“Things have been tough over here, but I’m in St. Moritz where I’ve done well before, so I’m crossing my fingers that I can make something good happen this weekend,” Mendes said on Thursday.

Mendes was the fastest U.S. skier in Thursday’s practice run, finishing sixth in 1:46.01.

Mendes’ career-best highlight came in St. Moritz in 2003 when she placed third in super-G at the world championship. She was sixth in downhill at the same championships.

Since 2001, Mendes has finished 11th, 12th and 15th in downhills at the same venue.

Even if Mendes doesn’t make the team, there are several South Shore competitors in great position to make next month’s Games in Torino, Italy.

Hannah Teter, 18, who now calls the South Shore home after purchasing a house in Meyers, goes into the final weekend of the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Snowboarding in solid position in women’s halfpipe.

Teter can only improve her first and runner-up finishes by one spot as the U.S. only counts the rider’s two-best performances.

Following this weekend’s competitions in New Jersey, the she will head to the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo.

“This year, I’m using the X Games as pre-prep for the Olympics, which sounds pretty weird,” Teter said. “When it’s something like this, I mellow out a little bit. It’s not worth it to risk yourself if you’re not feeling it. I’m using these next two events as my training ground.”

Zephyr Cove’s Elena Hight, 16, is right behind Teter in the Grand Prix standings with a second-place finish and two third-place finishes.

Hight is trying to qualify for the Olympics for the first time and stands to be the youngest member of the team.

“I’m not for sure going, but I’m in a good position,” Hight said.

Gretchen Bleiler of Snowmass, Colo., and Shaun White of Carlsbad, Calif., have already secured Olympic spots based on multiple first-place finishes. It is speculated that halfpipe riders will make up half of the snowboarding team.

“It will be nice to go to the X Games with the Olympic team already named and not worry about the Olympics,” Hight said. “We’ll be out there having fun with no pressure on us.”

Truckee’s Andy Finch is one of the leading men’s halfpipe contenders. Finch has placed fourth in the past two events and is ranked sixth overall in the Grand Prix standings.

Abe and Elijah Teter, also residents of Meyers, will compete in New Jersey and will each need two high finishes to make the Olympic team.

Abe’s best finish in three events this season is 17th place, while an injury has kept Elijah from competing thus far.

An unfortunate situation, South Lake Tahoe’s Shaun Palmer qualified for the U.S. Olympic SBX Team after a solid World Cup season but tore his Achilles tendon in a race last week in Italy and will miss the Olympics.

Sierraville’s Jayson Hale is expected to replace the 37-year-old Palmer on what will likely be a four-man team that will include Squaw Valley’s Nate Holland, Jason Smith and Seth Wescott.

“Shaun’s injury is heartbreaking,” said U.S. Snowboard head coach Peter Foley. “He was definitely on a roll and had made huge strides with his equipment, technique and tactics. As a coaching staff we really felt he was on track to medal at the Olympics.”

Meanwhile, bump skier Travis Cabral of South Lake Tahoe has a precarious hold on the men’s fourth Olympic spot in freestyle skiing. He solidified his position last week at Deer Valley, Utah, with his second fifth-place finish of the World Cup season.

However, if one of the skiers behind Cabral such as Nate Roberts pulls off a podium finish in either competition this weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y., Cabral could be in trouble.

“Anything can happen,” the 22-year-old Cabral said. “Consistency is the key to making it.”

Cabral said on Sunday that the weather is usually harsh this time of the year at Lake Placid, but he doesn’t expect to get any help from the conditions.

“They’ll make sure they get those (comps) off on Friday and Sunday,” he said.

Freestyle skiers Jeremy Bloom, Toby Dawson and Hannah Kearney are already guaranteed Olympic spots.

Bloom and Kearney won the Olympic Trials, while Dawson claimed first at Deer Valley, Utah.

Tahoe City’s Shannon Bahrke is also in great position after finishing fourth in the past two World Cups. Bahrke won a silver at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

The U.S. OIympic team is expected to name its snowboarding team on Saturday and its freestyle and Alpine ski teams on Wednesday.


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