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Mendes clings to slim Olympic chance

Steve Yingling
Jonna Mendes of South Lake Tahoe holds up her trophy after winning the U.S. Alpine National Championships women's downhill last April at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in Mammoth Lakes. Mendes is hoping to make her third U.S. Olympic ski team.
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Just when it looked like Jonna Mendes’ streak of Winter Olympics appearances was about to come to a crashing end, there is a sliver of hope that the U.S. Ski Team veteran from South Lake Tahoe could make it to Torino.

The two-time Olympian’s 19th-place finish in downhill on Saturday in St. Moritz, Switzerland, came at a time when most of her U.S. teammates struggled. Lindsay Kildow was the only American to beat Mendes, finishing 17th.

Kildow, Tahoe City’s Julia Mancuso and veteran Kirsten Clark are thought to be shoe-ins for the Olympic downhill, but Mendes could possibly land the fourth spot.

“That last spot is really open,” said Noel Dufty, Mendes’ former coach at Heavenly Ski Foundation. “They may want to wait. If they decide to wait until the last downhill, that’s the best bet for Jonna.

“The Austrians wait and take a couple extras to the hill and then see who is fastest on the (Olympic) hill.”

The United States Ski and Snowboard Association is expected to announce the Olympic Alpine and freestyle teams on Wednesday, but the women still have downhill and super-G races Jan. 27-29 at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

Mendes, 26, has been limited to just several races this season after nearly breaking a leg during a crash at Lake Louise in December.

“My crash in Lake Louise was huge,” Mendes said. “The bruising and trauma to my leg prohibited me from putting my leg in my boot for weeks. When I was finally able to put my boots back on and start training it had been almost a month since I had last skied. I was able to train for a while before entering these last few Olympic qualifiers and my skiing has been getting better and better.”

In addition to her top-20 result in downhill last weekend in St. Moritz, Mendes placed 29th in a super-G race. Mendes was the top American downhiller at the last Olympics in Salt Lake City and collected a bronze medal at the 2003 world championships.

“There is a small possibility that I can still qualify for the team on a discretionary basis considering my past big-event performances, but I would be surprised if that happens,” she said. “It’s an awful feeling and I’m struggling to remain positive, but I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of two past Olympic teams.”

Mendes said she will return to her hometown next week.


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