Locals score at national championships
Lake Tahoe’s Olympians are finishing the winter with style, securing medals in men’s and women’s races at the Chevy Trucks U.S. National Championships.
Hosted by Squaw Valley U.S.A., Friday’s speed event took place despite a wide range of weather conditions.
The women competed first, racing under ominous skies down the Olympic Lady course. Caroline LaLive, boosted by her recent second place at World Cup finals, won the gold.
First out of the gate, LaLive completed 30 turns in a time of 58.83 seconds. Chasing her into the runner-up spot was South Shore’s Jonna Mendes, with a score of 59.08.
Julia Mancuso of Tahoe City completed the Lake Tahoe podium by claiming the bronze when she was timed at 1:00.61.
With a little discretion, the women’s national super-G podium was an all-Tahoe group.
Mendes has lived at South Lake Tahoe since age 4, skiing her way through the ranks of the Heavenly Race Foundation. Mancuso grew up in Tahoe City, training at Squaw, and as a youngster was babysat by LaLive, who left for Steamboat Springs, Colo., as a 12-year-old.
While this marked a first national speed title for LaLive (ranked sixth in the world for super-G), this is the third time Mendes, 22, has taken silver at the national super-G.
“I’m really happy with my run,” Mendes said. “I’m sitting right behind Caroline and she has had an awesome year. She’s had the best World Cup super-G season for an American female racer — ever. For me to be so close behind her is an honor. I would have liked to win, but after such a great season, it’s fitting that ‘Liner’ took the gold. She really deserved it.”
Lalive, a 22-year-old all-event racer, felt good getting the monkey off her back, after a poor show at the Olympics. Asked if she’ll stick with the grueling five-discipline schedule, LaLive replied, “I think as I get older, I’ll get well-established in the events and be able to miss some World Cups, and I won’t have such a heinous schedule. In the meantime, this season was the toughest, but it’s good to end on a high note.”
Mancuso is coming off her own stellar season.
Just 18, she used the momentum from her three gold medals at World Junior Championships, to race at he World Cup finals two weeks ago in Austria.
Top-seeded Kirsten Clark crashed three gates short of the finish line, but skied away unhurt.
Rounding out the Tahoe theme, Marco Sullivan of Tahoe City won the men’s super-G title Friday afternoon. Worsening clouds finally developed into a full-blown winter storm, forcing the field of 71 to use various Braille methods.
Initially, Sullivan, 22, was in first with a clocking of 59.24, followed predictably by fellow Olympians Erik Schlopy and Thomas Vonn. As racer No. 24, Sullivan started dodging bullets when “the kids” began charging from mid-pack.
Thomas (T.J.) Lanning screamed through the finish to second place with his time of 59.36. Steve Nyman exchanged his 29th start for a third place finish, only .01 slower than Lanning. Both are from Park City, Utah, with 18-year-old Lanning on the U.S. Development Team and 20-year-old Nyman coming from nowhere to ace the World Junior Championship slalom.
Wisi Betschart, of South Lake Tahoe, fell prey to zero visibility on the lower course, which ended him in 31st spot. He was in capable company, with Olympians Bode Miller battling snowy goggles to finish an unwelcomed sixth, and Dane Spencer disqualified after missing a gate.
Pleased with his first national title, Marco Sullivan admitted, “This wasn’t my best performance, but look at the conditions. I definitely had an advantage, because I’ve skied this hill when you couldn’t see anything, so I kind of knew where I was going. These other guys on the podium are scaring me, I’ll tell you that much,” he finished with a laugh.
Women’s Giant Slalom
Jonna Mendes was the surprise winner in defending her giant slalom title Monday in the final women’s event at the 2002 Chevy Truck U.S. Alpine Championships.
“Both of them have been complete surprises,” said Mendes, reflecting back on the title she won last year at Big Mountain. “Both years I went into them thinking that my chances weren’t that great and that a podium finish would be tremendous, and both years I’ve come out with a win.”
Mendes, who skis primarily downhill and super-G, skied to a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 50.70 seconds, as Caroline Lalive of Steamboat Springs, Colo., was second at 1:51.39, followed by Julia Mancuso of Tahoe City in third at 1:51.51. Mancuso, for the third time in these championships, was the top junior finisher.
“Jonna is an awesome competitor and a great skier so I’m happy for her today,” Lalive said. “It’s a great way for her to finish off the season defending the title.”
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