Mendes breaks through in DH |

Mendes breaks through in DH

South Lake Tahoe’s Jonna Mendes was the first racer on course this weekend, and finished her days quicker than ever this weekend.

The 20-year-old 1998 Olympian drew the first start in a World Cup downhill at St. Moritz, Switzerland on Friday, and responded with her first career top-15 finish, best on the U.S. team. She followed that with a 20th in the second downhill on Saturday, and completed the weekend with a 29th in Sunday’s super-G.

“She skied exceptionally well, really skied top to bottom,” U.S. Ski Team coach Marjan Cernigoj said of Mendes’s career-best finish on Friday. “She was good at the top, but she was fifth-fastest on the bottom and this is a very difficult course. It has all the elements of a great downhill: flat at the top, a big jump – that’s where (Kirsten Clark) crashed and where (Janica) Kostelic went down (Thursday) – and some high-speed turns, technical section, a lot of rolls. Jonna was awesome. She really committed to the course.”

Mendes – whose previous top result was 19th at a downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta over Thanksgiving weekend – finished in 1 minute, 38.79 seconds on Friday.

Clark, a U.S. Ski Team member from Raymond, Maine, did not finish. With World Cup leader Kostelic sidelined for the season after tearing knee ligaments in the crash during training Thursday, Italy’s Isolde Kostner won her third race of the season on Friday, finishing in 1:37.81, ahead of German Regina Haeusl and Slovenian Spela Bracun.

On Saturday, Swedish champ Pernilla Wiberg recovered enough from an errant jump at the bottom of the course to win the second downhill in 1:12.57, her first World Cup DH win in nearly three years. Austrian Renate Goetschl, the reigning downhill World Champion, was second in 1:12.79, and Hilde Gerg of Germany third in 1:12.88.

Cernigoj said Mendes cost herself with several minor mistakes in the middle of Saturday’s race.

“But she skied aggressively, which is good to see,” Cernigoj said.

Clark posted another DNF after going out on the bottom of the course. A storm made visibility a problem, and produced a handful of spectacular crashes. There were a dozen DNFs and two disqualifications.

Clark rebounded on Sunday for her best result of the season, finishing 20th in the super-G. Mendes, who took 29th in 1:30.12, had problems at the top, and couldn’t recapture her rhythm from earlier in the week.

Italian racer Karen Putzer took her first World Cup win on Sunday, finishing in 1:27.37. Teammate Alessandra Merlin was second in 1:27.43, and Regine Cavagnoud of France third in 1:27.60.

Following a holiday break, the women return to World Cup action Dec. 28-29 in Lienz, Austria for giant slalom and slalom.

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