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Downhill Wins by Mendes, Friedman at U.S. Nationals

GIRDWOOOD, Alaska March 20, 2004 (AP by Doug Alden) - Bryon Friedman thought going early in the downhill at the U.S. Alpine Championships could be an advantage.

Put down a good run, he thought, and let the competition worry about beating it. The strategy was nearly flawless.

``I feel great. This was my goal all week - to save it all for race day,'' said Friedman, whose downhill run was nearly two seconds faster than anyone else Friday. ``I probably skied the most aggressively I have all season today. I wanted the national title.''

Friedman, a 23-year-old Dartmouth senior who opened the season on the U.S. ``B'' team, finished in 1 minute, 38.96 seconds, then stood at the base of Alyeska and watched as crowd favorites Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves failed to come close to toppling his time.

``It's good to come here and put it down and beat them - by two seconds, no less. I'm pretty fired up,'' Friedman said.

The championships were scheduled to continue Saturday in the super giant slalom with Friedman and Jonna Mendes going for their second titles of the weekend.

Mendes won the women's race Friday morning for her third national championship and first in a speed event. Mendes (1:44.25) was almost a full second ahead of second-place Julia Mancuso (1:45.18), followed by Libby Ludlow (1:45.41).

Mendes, who struggled through the World Cup season after taking a break at the holidays, took a week off before coming to Alyeska, where she won an FIS prelude downhill on Thursday.

``It was just little things. As soon as it kind of started to fall apart, it just escalated and things kind of kept getting worse and worse,'' she said. ``I did nothing that had to do with skiing. I just decided to come to this championship and have a good time with it and enjoy Alaska because I've never been here.''

It was the first national title for Mendes since she won the second of back-to-back giant slaloms in 2001-02.

The downhill races opened the five-day event at Alyeska Resort, which was scheduled to host the U.S. Nationals last year before they were moved because of warm weather and bad snow conditions.

Weather isn't going to be a problem. The resort, about 40 miles southeast of Anchorage, received more than a foot of snow earlier this week and temperatures were barely in the 20s by the time the men's run ended early Friday afternoon.

Friedman was the fourth skier to go and set an unbeatable time by nailing the top half of the course and carrying the speed the rest of the way. Jeremy Transue, a member of the U.S. "C'' team, surprised the field and finished second (1:40.85). Rahlves, the top all-time U.S. skier in the downhill and winner of Friday's FIS downhill, was third (1:40.94).

Miller, who didn't arrive in Alaska until early Friday as he traveled from Italy, finished 10th (1:42.34).

``I'm surprised that I wasn't a little faster, but the guys who are here are good enough to score on the World Cup any day. It's a high level of competition,'' said Miller, who finished No. 4 in the overall World Cup standings.

Kevin Francis of Bend, Ore., fell in the top half of the course and injured his right knee. He was taken down the rest of the mountain on a sled by the ski patrol, giving a thumbs-up to show the crowd he was OK when he reached the bottom. Francis' fall caused a 10-minute delay before Miller's run, which placed him briefly in fourth.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press

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