Mendes is top American but settles for second in nationals |

Mendes is top American but settles for second in nationals

Dana Jo Turvey, Tribune Correspondent

BIG MOUNTAIN, MONT. – Tahoe’s sweetheart earned a double-edged victory at Sunday’s Chevy Truck U.S. Alpine Championship super-G. Jonna Mendes ended her day as the fastest American, but only took home a silver medal. The win went to Sweden’s Pernilla Wiberg, a 10-year World Cup veteran who held the overall title in 1997.

Wiberg is bouncing back from several injuries, including her 12th knee

surgery. Having started her race year late in the World Cup season, “Pilla” was eager to continue racing after the women’s FIS downhills at Snowbasin, Utah, last week. National championship rules allow up to 25 foreign athlete entries each year.

With her trademark grace, the Swede said, “I was happy to win today, because it was my first victory for the season. Even if it’s not a World Cup race, I knew that these girls have been doing very well. It’s a good podium.”

After Wiberg’s winning time of 1:22.45 on the 40 gate Ursa Major course, Mendes of Heavenly Ski Foundation came in with a time of 1:22.83. Rounding out the podium was part-time Olympic Valley resident Kirsten Clark. She posted a third-place time of 1:22.91.

Keeping Lake Tahoe solidly in the headlines, Julia Mancuso nabbed fourth spot out of 55 racers. Barely off Clark’s time, the 17-year-old from Tahoe City finished her run in 1:22.96.

Mancuso’s time was also the top finish in the junior category (19 and under), and her fourth split time was fastest in all age groups. Largely seen as one

of the best up-and-comers, on Saturday evening, Mancuso was honored with the Ski Racing Magazine Junior Skier of the Year award.

In Friday’s downhill competition, the same top names simply swapped places. Mancuso was fifth, Wiberg fourth, Mendes third, Picabo Street second and Clark won the championship title for the fourth straight year.

Although the U.S. National super-G title now heads back to Sweden, Mendes had nothing but kind words regarding Wiberg.

“Honestly, Pernilla is one of the greatest athletes, greatest people on the entire World Cup circuit. So I can’t be unhappy, and I’m totally happy for her,” Mendes said. “She’s been struggling this season and having a really hard time, so if this lifts her spirits a little bit and let’s her know she’s fast, that’s all right with me.”

Also struggling a bit this winter has been sStreet. The Olympic and world champion has returned to racing after two years recuperating from her own injuries, but after being disqualified for missing a gate, Street stormed from the finish arena Sunday.

Boosting Mendes’ spirits was the realization that she’d bested Street and

Clark, both longtime race veterans. Mendes said, “I’ve been kind of going up and down a lot this year with my super-G. I’ll have one really good race, one really bad race, so it’s been productive, but frustrating. So to come here and beat the girls I’ve been going back and forth with all year is good.”

Mendes, who turns 22 on Saturday, came out very aggressive.

“Today, I did everything I could to be fast. I just tried to charge hard all the way down. That’s all I was concentrating on at the start, just charge as hard as I possibly could,” Mendes said. “I’d checked out all the snow conditions (during inspection) and I knew where it might be a little rough and where all the terrain was. So I don’t feel anything took me by surprise today. It was good to end the season on a high note.”

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