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Swede Wins American Race

Swede Wins American Race

Features
By Associated Press Newsdesk
posted: 03/23/2001

Whitefish, Mont. March 25, 2001 (AP by Tim Korte)--Californian Jonna Mendes has won a national championship race in Hungary, so she didn't have a problem with a Swedish skier winning the American nationals.

Especially someone as accomplished as Pernilla Wiberg.

The Swede won the women's super-G Sunday in the U.S. Alpine nationals in 1 minute, 22.45 seconds. Mendes, of Heavenly, Calif., was second in 1:22.83, while defending champion Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, was third in 1:22.91.

Wiberg, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and winner of 24 World Cup races, competed independently, using the American event for additional training as she returns from a knee injury.

``It's a long way to travel to go home, and I knew they had the nationals and it would be really good racing,'' Wiberg said. ``I'm racing a lot because I missed the beginning of the season. I needed some more races.''

Wiberg blew out her left knee during a World Cup downhill in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in December 1999. She won that race, but Sunday's super-G was her first victory since then.

``It's been hard,'' Wiberg said. ``I had some problems with my knee when I started again in December. I didn't have the guts to ski really hard. I kind of felt my way through the courses, and I was struggling a lot.''

After competing in Super Series races last week in Utah, the decision to stay in the United States an extra week has proven sound.

Wiberg placed fourth in Friday's downhill and then did some shopping in nearby Kalispell, picking up a cowboy hat, a Western shirt, Wrangler jeans, boots and a scarf.

``It's starting to be a fashion now in Europe, the cowboy look,'' she explained with a laugh.

Mendes was excited about her result, coming after a season of up-and-down performances in super-G.

``It's been productive and also frustrating,'' Mendes said. ``To come here and beat a lot of the girls I've been going back and forth with is great. It's good to end the season on a high note.''

Mendes won the giant slalom at Hungarian nationals in 1999 and took bronze earlier this year in the same event at Croatian nationals. She wanted to win at home, but she was happy for Wiberg.

``She's awesome,'' Mendes said. ``I wish it was an American winning at U.S. nationals, but Pernilla is one of the greatest skiers ever.''

U.S. Ski Team vice president Alan Ashley said Wiberg is considered an American champion under a reciprocal agreement that allows U.S. skiers to compete in national title events in other countries.

After several days of sunshine and blue skies, clouds moved over Big Mountain Resort, producing flat light that made it harder to see the turns.

Clark skied fifth, and she immediately reached for a radio after coming through the finish area so she could advise teammates Julia Mancuso and Sarah Schleper about the best lines.

Mancuso placed fourth and Schleper was sixth.

``It's always tough in super-G because you only get one run,'' Clark said. ``You don't want to chance too much but you can't hold back, either. It's a fine line to balance.''

Picabo Street, the super-G gold medalist in the 1998 Nagano Olympics who is coming back from major knee and leg injuries, was skiing strong when she missed a gate near the bottom of the course.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press

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