Big Mountain, Mont. March 27, 2001 (USSA)--A wide-smiling but admittedly bewildered Jonna Mendes (Heavenly, CA) -- the former Hungarian giant slalom champion -- had the fastest time on each run Tuesday and collected her first national title as she won the GS by 1.75 seconds on the fifth day of the Chevy Truck U.S. Alpine Championships.
"This is a total surprise," Mendes said as she stood in the finish area, still shaking her head several minutes later. "I am so-o-oexcited...
"Today I didn't have a whole lot of expectations for myself and a podium definitely would be thrilling -- and the top step of thepodium is unreal."
Mendes, who won the Hungarian title two years ago, held a .77 lead over Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) after the first run and went on towin in 2:22.05. Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME), who won her fourth straight downhill title Friday at Big Mountain, was silver medalistin 2:23.80 with Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA) taking the bronze medal (2:24.25).
Completing the top five: Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN) in fourth and Swedish star Pernilla Wiberg, the 1992 Olympic GSchampion, fifth. Schleper lost a ski about eight gates from the finish and was a DNF.
Coach Likes Momentum
"It was a continuation of a good World Cup season," said U.S. Head Coach Marjan Cernigoj. "They stayed mentally with it."
"I really wanted a national title in speed because I've been so close for so many years," said Mendes, who was second Sunday insuper G after being third Friday in the downhill. "Three or four years now I've podiumed in the speed events.
"I knew I could do it. I knew it was a possibility even though I wasn't very happy with my second and third place," she went on. "Anational title is something I've never had and not a lot of people get an opportunity to say they're the national champion. It'sawesome - it's totally unexpected, but I'm loving it."
Because she hasn't raced a lot of GS this season, Mendes said she didn't have great expectations coming into the race. As with theDH and super G, her race plan was to attack.
Simple Race Plan--Char-r-r-rge!
"If I just go out of the gate and charge as hard as I possibly can all the way down to th finish line, no matter what the outcome, Ihave to be content that I gave it everything. That was my game plan today, to charge as hard as I could...and I did, for sure."
Clark was smiling, too. "This is a great way to end it, being on the podium for downhill, super G and GS," she said. However, she saidshe would skip the slalom Wednesday - and a chance for the combined title.
"I'm pretty tired now, it's been a long season, so for me to start slalom without any training...I didn't see any reason to do that,"Clark said.
Mancuso, the top junior for the third straight race, said she was amazed at the solid condition of the course, considering the rainSunday and Monday plus 35-degree temperatures.
Good Focus Pays Off
"I wasn't thinking so much about the snow. I had a pretty good focus for my second run, and I was thinking about going fast to thebottom" she said.
"It was pretty much my goal for nationals to be solid on every run, and so far it's been pretty good. Mission accomplished, so far,"she said. She was fifth in the downhill behind Clark, fourth behind Wiberg in super G.
"Fifth...fourth...third," she said with a shy grin. "And tomorrow? Hmmmm...maybe..."
The men's and women's slaloms are scheduled to start Wednesday at 9 a.m. with most of the top men continuing.