Mendes opens season by placing 13th in downhill
LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Jonna Mendes couldn’t have handpicked a more ideal venue to return from a broken foot suffered last spring.
Lake Louise Ski Area has always treated her right. Mendes’ good living in Alberta continued on Thursday as she finished 13th in the opening downhill of the 2001-02 World Cup skiing season.
Mendes was one of three Americans to finish among the top 13, as Picabo Street placed sixth and Kirsten Clark 11th.
Mendes was glad to finally have a race. She didn’t get to spend much time on snow during the preseason, but Lake Louise — where she earned her first World Cup points (en route to the 1998 Olympics), her first top-20 (’99) and her first top-10 (a year ago) provides a comfort factor as she eases back into racing.
“After you’ve been injured, there’s a coming-back period that you just hafta kinda see how it’s going to go,” she said. “I needed this first race to say, ‘OK, I can get a top 15, no problem. Now, here’s what I’m going to do, this is what I’m capable of. I know it. I needed to get this race under my belt.
“And now that I’ve got it, I don’t see why I can’t get a top 10 again this year.”
Italy’s Isolde Kostner won the women’s downhill opener.
Kostner, who won a downhill on the same course last season en route to the World Cup title in the event, finished in 1 minute 36.75 seconds.
“I love the place, the mountains, the view, especially the course,” Kostner said. “Every year I look forward to coming here. I like being in the middle of the trees, the middle of the mountains, without any cows.”
Austria’s Michaela Dorfmeister was second at 1:37.08, and Switzerland’s Corinne Rey Bellet was third in 1:37.26.
Street, the American star who shattered her left leg and blew out her right knee in a 1998 crash, finished sixth in 1:37.61. It was her best finish since returning from serious leg injuries.
“I made a few mistakes, but the bottom line was I had a good time running that downhill,” the American star said. “I messed up the top and hit the bottom. Maybe tomorrow I will do the opposite.”
Clark of the United States was 11th in 1:38.09. Mendes’ time was 1:38.14.
Naturally, U.S. downhill coach Jim Tracy was pleased with the opening results.
“Good day … good — not great — but a good, solid start by everybody,” Tracy said. “They gave me a nice present. I’m pleased with all of them — a big step back for Peek and Jonna and Katie (Monahan), really big steps, and good steps for Clarky and ‘Liner’ (Caroline Lalive) and the young ones, who’re paying their dues.
“We’ve got things to clean up, but right now they’re all moving forward.”
Women’s head coach Marjan Cernigoj agreed with Tracy.
“There were a lot of positives today. Peek, Jonna, Katie — all really good … and they all know they can do better,” he said. “We’ll attack again (Friday). “There are such small margins and you have to pay attention all the way. This was good for the start of the season.”
The women race downhill again Friday and super-G Saturday. They will stick around next week for Nor Am Cup races at Lake Louise. Two downhills and super Gs are scheduled before they head to Europe.
Canada’s Melanie Turgeon appeared headed for a top-three run but caught an edge and crashed hard into the snow near the finish line, with one ski flying into the air.
Turgeon said she had a sore right arm but expected to race in Friday’s second downhill.
“It’s frustrating, but at least I’m not off to the hospital,” Turgeon said. “Life is hard, very hard. This won’t get me down.”
— United States Ski Team reports contributed to this story.