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First DH Title for Tahoe's Mendes

GIRDWOOD, Alaska March 19, 2004 (USST) - Two-time Olympian Jonna Mendes (Heavenly, CA) won the first speed event title of her career Friday, capturing the downhill that opened the Chevrolet U.S. Alpine Championships at Alyeska Resort by nearly a full second. Defending champion Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA) was silver medalist and Libby Ludlow (Bellevue, WA) took the bronze.

A day after winning the pre-championships FIS downhill, Mendes overpowered the bottom of the 2.7K Bowl/Gelende course to win in 1:44.25 in 20-degree sunshine. Mancuso, finished in 1:45.18 with Ludlow timed in in 1:45.41.

Strangely, Mendes - who was super G bronze medalist at the 2003 World Championships and collected two silver medals in downhill at the World Junior Championships - had no speed wins at the U.S. championships. Her two previous titles came in giant slalom - in 2001 and again in '02.

"This is really a surprise, like both of my previous national titles," Mendes said. "It's coming at a really good time in my season. I'd had a frustrating time and I've been really down on myself and feeling pretty bad about my skiing.

"But being home and already looking forward to next season...I think it has a lot to do with why I'm getting a resurgence of energy."

She won the FIS downhill, Mendes said, "but I still had a couple of mistakes, a couple of places to clean up, a couple of places where I could see girls were gonna take me, especially on the bottom. I was losing time down here. Today, I knew I was gonna be strong on the top and I just had to keep my speed from the top all the way down to the bottom.

"I skied my heart out down here. I was really psyched with my skiing," she said.

The two jumps on course are Silvertip, in the midsection and Waterfall, which leads to a traverse that takes racer down into the finish. It's a vital section, according to Mendes.

"The trick is to really let your skis run up there," she said. "Gain as much speed up there as you can...across the traverse, it's bumpy in there but it's where you bring all your speed into the finish, so it's a really important part of the course...

"I was trying to go as straight as I could, hold onto it and just kinda risk it down here, and I think that's why I won the race," she said.

The title races continue Saturday with super G and then shift to slalom Sunday, an off day for the women Monday and the giant slalom finale Tuesday.

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