World Cup Finals berth within Mendes’ reach |

World Cup Finals berth within Mendes’ reach

Although Jonna Mendes isn’t feeling the pressure, Saturday is a huge day in the promising young U.S. Ski Team’s speed skier’s career.

The former Heavenly Foundation Ski Team racer is gunning for her first spot in the World Cup Finals, which recognize only the top 25 racers from each discipline. Sitting in 27th place in the downhill standings following last Friday’s stop in Innsbruck, Austria, Mendes probably needs a top-20 finish Saturday in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, to secure a spot in the March 15-19 championships in Bormio, Italy.

“I wouldn’t say that anyone is putting pressure on me at all besides myself,” said Mendes, who will turn 21 on March 31. “Making the World Cup Finals shows that you deserve to be racing in the most elite level there is in ski racing, so for me it will just be a huge step up in showing myself and the rest of the world that I’m on my way to the top.”

Mendes is already meeting some of her lofty preseason goals.

“The two main things I wanted to achieve was consistently place in the top 30 in either downhill or super-G and work my way to the top 30 in either event on the start list,” she said.

“Every year when I set my goals, they are always attainable but always difficult, too. Last year, I wanted to win at Junior World Championships and placed second. I didn’t consider that a flop in any way, but I was still disappointed because my goal was obviously right on target, but I just didn’t do it.”

U.S. teammate Kirsten Clark and Italy’s Patrizia Bassis are tied for the final World Cup Finals downhill spot. They have 74 points, compared to Mendes’ 69.

“I’d have to say that if I don’t qualify for World Cup Finals I will be very disappointed because I will have been so close to making it, but I will still consider my year a huge step-up.”

The 5-foot-9 Mendes has added incentive to qualify for World Cup Finals. American coaches have told their skiers that anyone who qualifies for the finals can use the next week to go anywhere in Europe they wish.

“That’s one big perk for me,” Mendes said. “It would be great to get some down time before the finals. As for where I want to go, I’ll wait until I qualify.”

Of course, if Mendes doesn’t qualify, she won’t mind returning home.

“If I qualify, this trip will be seven weeks long,” she said. “That is the longest I will have ever been away from Heavenly since I was 3.”

While Mendes has been disappointed with her super-G performances, she is making a late-season charge in the discipline. She finished 19th on Sunday and was 26th on Saturday in Igls, Austria. Her consistency in downhill has more than made up for her inconsistencies in super-G, though.

“I would have to say that the reason for my (overall) improvement is mostly that I am becoming familiar with racing on the World Cup,” said the 1998 Olympian. “I am much more comfortable racing on the circuit now, and I’m actually enjoying it a ton.

“I have friends on the other national teams and we have a good time together. “

That familiarity factor is also paying dividends in the learning curve with her coaches.

“It’s much more enjoyable when you have a good support system around,” Mendes said. “Having worked with my coaches for almost three years, we know each other well enough that they can tell me that I’m not skiing like I should, and I also feel comfortable letting them know what is going to make me a better athlete and how they can help.”

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