U.S. Ski team member off to a good start | TahoeDailyTribune.com

U.S. Ski team member off to a good start

In the old Nike athletic shoe commercial, there was a slogan, “It’s gotta be the shoes.”

That same thing can almost be said for skiing – at least in the case of South Shore and Heavenly Ski Foundation’s Jonna Mendes.

The 21-year-old U.S. Ski Team member is off to her best start in her five years on the team and attributes a lot of her success to switching equipment this winter.

For about 15 years, Mendes skied on Dynastar, before switching to Fischer this past summer.

“After I switched skis I was really happy with my performance and the product,” Mendes said.

Mendes was under contract with Dynastar and said she wasn’t really aware that other products were better.

“I didn’t realize that it made a difference,” Mendes said. “I just thought if I skied my brains out, I’d do well.”

But she soon realized that her talent alone would not carry her to the podium. So, in this crucial winter season before the 2002 Olympics, Mendes decided to switch many things in her training, lifestyle and skiing.

She rededicated herself during the off-season, switched sponsors and concentrated solely on skiing and her career began to take off.

Although Mendes competed in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, she never experienced the amount of success as she has this season.

Recently bumped up to the ‘A’ team from the ‘B’ team, Mendes has found herself placing in the top 10 consistently.

“That takes a bit of luck,” said Noel Dufty, Mendes’ former Heavenly Foundation Ski coach. “But with her focus and drive, it was just a matter of time before she had this kind of year.”

Mendes’ first top-10 finishes came this season at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada back in December and she has been blazing a new trail ever since. Currently, she is ranked ninth in the world in the downhill, and 19th in the super-G.

“Now she has the confidence. When you have that, then you can go faster and faster,” Dufty said. “Now, it’s just a matter of her finding a good course where she is comfortable.”

In addition to switching sponsors, Mendes sought out the expertise of a new technician. She turned to Ales Sopotnik to help her with equipment and immidiately saw a difference.

“It’s not just my skis. Right now I’m a lot more focused,” she said. “Everything is coming together. Ales has helped bring it all together.”

Mendes is not happy with just being among the best in the world. She is aiming to be the best. To stand on the podium in Salt Lake City next winter would be the icing on the cake for all the hard work and momentum she’s gained this season.

“The Olympics is everyone’s dream,” Mendes said. “It comes along so few times that you have to take advantage of it.”

And she is. Four years ago, Mendes set some personal goals. Three years ago, she wanted top-30 finishes and World Cup points; two years ago it was top-20 finishes; last year, her goal was to be consistently in the top-20s; and this year, Mendes wanted to be in the top 15.

Next, she wants to be one of the best in the world.

“I want to be good enough to be on podiums,” she said. “I want all my results to lead up to the Olympics. If I can be peaking when I get there, then I’ll reach my goal.”

Dufty knows his former pupil is capable of her latest set of goals.

“All that is holding her back is last year’s rankings,” he said. “Her skiing is among the best in the world, but now that the old rankings are no longer binding, she can be top 10 in the world.”

With Mendes on the “A” team, she can pick the races and places she starts. This added advantage allows her to use the elements to her benefit. If the conditions warrant a lower starting spot, Mendes can start later, and if she needs to jump out to an early start, then she can do that as well. All of which will help her heading into the Olympics.

“The Olympics hit right when she’ll be 22 years old,” Dufty said. “That’s perfect for her. It’ll play right into her strength.”

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