WHITEFISH, Mont. -- All season, Jonna Mendes went into the starting gate telling herself she would ski fast. This time she followed through -- not just once, but twice.
Mendes won the women's giant slalom Tuesday at the U.S. Alpine nationals, posting the two fastest runs for a surprising victory in an event that isn't her specialty.
"I had no expectations," said Mendes, who concentrates on downhill and super-G. "I haven't run a lot of GS, and I haven't run against any of the girls here. It's hard to know what's good."
Mendes had a combined time of 2 minutes, 22.05 seconds over a course that was icy in the morning and softened to spring conditions at the bottom by the second run.
"I felt if I got a top-five (finish), I was going to be really stoked. Wow, here I am winning," said Mendes, of Heavenly, Calif.
Kirsten Clark was second in 2:23.80, while Julia Mancuso was third in 2:24.25. Sarah Schleper had the second-fastest opening time, behind Mendes, but lost a ski about eight gates above the finish of her second run.
Kristina Koznick, who left the U.S. Ski Team last summer to compete independently this season, placed fourth in 2:24.36.
Three Alaska residents and two members of the University of Alaska Anchorage ski team competed Tuesday, with UAA's Erika Hansson (of Sweden) posting a seventh-place finish in 2:26.34. Morgan Gose of Anchorage was 21st in 2:29.22; UAA's Courtney Yamada of Idaho Falls, Idaho, took 42nd in 2:34.78; Suki Horton of Anchorage was 44th in 2:35.19 and Juneau's Sarah Fischer took 47th in 2:36.60. There were 68 racers total.
The gates were moved closer together on the second run, prompting some skiers to compare the course to a super-G. That favored Mendes, especially after she had one of her best starts all season.
"I have this whole routine," she explained. "I always say, 'This is going to be my fastest run of the year.' So by now, I've probably had 50 starts where I've said that. And this time? Yeah, it was a pretty good start."
It was an up-and-down World Cup season for Mendes, who opened with a career-best sixth in the downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, but struggled to be consistent the rest of the way.
The nationals, however, have gone well. She also took second in the super-G and third in the downhill.
"First, second and third. This is more than I definitely expected," Mendes said. "I'm going to ski the slalom, too. It's just going to be a fun race. I'm not expecting anything. You never know."
Mendes placed 31st in her last giant slalom, a Europa Cup race in February. She took a break from skiing Monday, hitting the local bowling alley with some teammates. It persuaded her to stick with skiing.
"I stink," she said with a laugh. "I got two strikes right away and then it was one pin, three pins, then maybe two pins. It was kind of like my ski season, really good or really bad."
Like Mendes, Clark also takes home one medal of each color. She won the downhill and placed third in super-G.
"I'm definitely happy with second," Clark said. "It's always nice to be top-notch, but I wanted to put down two good runs and make the podium in GS. So it was great for me to reach those goals."
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