Mendes poised for podium |

Mendes poised for podium

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — A calm, cool and confident U.S. Women’s Ski Team heads into today’s super-G with the podium in mind. And all four have a shot, and all four have taken some of the Olympic disappointment and channeled it into a consistent and successful season.

“We’re all healthy and I think we’re all proving that we have stepped up since the Olympics,” said Heavenly Ski Foundation product Jonna Mendes, “and we’re all really skiing well as a team.”

Mendes speaks with authority, coming off a banner weekend in Cortina where she had career best super-G and downhill races. She was a World Cup career-best fifth in downhill and eighth in super-G.

Kirsten Clark is no stranger to the podium in St. Moritz, having finished third in this pre-Christmas super-G a year ago.

“Coming into St. Moritz this year I feel more confident having the results I’ve had at the beginning of the season and being as consistent as I have been on the downhill and super-G circuit,” said Kirsten Clark, who is the co-leader in the World Cup downhill standings. “I think in the past I’ve had a couple of good results in the season here and there, but it’s never been as consistent as it has been this season. I’m just going to go and do my best on raceday and hopefully I’ll be smiling in the finish.”

U.S. Women’s downhill/super-G head coach Jim Tracy tabbed Mendes and Clark, along with Caroline Lalive of Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Julia Mancuso of the North Shore as the four starters.

“After the Olympics last year, and feeling all the power from all the athletes, it brought a new experience in me,” said Mancuso, who won three world junior titles at the end of last year. “And now hopefully I can use that and come here looking to medal and looking to know that I belong in this competition as a key competitor.”

Lalive has long ago set aside Olympic disappointments.

“My finish last year at the World Cup finals was like a personal victory for me, emotionally and bouncing back after the Olympics,” she said. “It was an encouragement and set a pace for the season. I feel I’ve been consistent this year on the speed side, but I’m not quite to where I know I’m capable of (skiing). So I’m going to just work race by race, building the confidence and getting to where I know I can be.”

St. Moritz’ Corviglia is known for its complex terrain, and a course which is totally above tree line. “On this hill, like any other hill, inspection is definitely key,” Clark said. “I have to go out and prepare that morning and have my game face on and have a good inspection. We’ve all been on this hill before, so we’ve all had that experience”

The experience Mendes, Lalive and Clark gained with cameo appearances in Nagano in 1998 have really begun to pay off.

“Even though I’m just 23, like Caroline, we’re considered veterans,” Mendes said. “This is my fifth major event. Coming into it, I’ve had some of the best results of my life in super-G and downhill, so I feel poised to make it a really good showing here. All season long I’ve been shooting for a podium, which I haven’t had yet, but I’m going to keep working until I get it. It would be great to have it here.”

Mendes isn’t surprised by her success this year, either.

“A couple things have led to my success this year,” she added. “I worked really hard this summer on my tech events, which have always been important to me, but I really put in a lot of time at our camps training GS and some slalom, and I think it’s only bettered my downhill. I also took a couple steps back and got away from skiing a bit after the Olympics, to hang out with my family and friends, get away from the sport a little bit and really miss it and to really think about why I’m out here and for the reasons I love doing this so much. And I think that’s really helped me to ski my best this year.”

NBC will begin coverage Saturday, with highlights of opening events and same-day coverage of next weekend’s downhill races.

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