According to Picabo Street, the future of women's skiing in the United States might be a person who grew up skiing 25 miles from the brown hills and sagebrush of Carson City. And since the difference between winning a gold medal at the Olympics and finishing in 30th place is whether or not you sneezed, I'll just go ahead and believe our country's most accomplished and most popular women's skier.
"There is a young lady that skis out of Heavenly who I think is someone who can really carry the torch on, both with success and personality wise. That is Jonna Mendes," Street said. "She is sassy and she is fun and very free spirited in the sense that she is not hung up on the inter-social mixings of the sports."
Mendes, who has already become a legend in her hometown of South Lake Tahoe, seems poised to become a fixture on the international stage. In February, Mendes, 24, won a bronze medal in the Super-G at the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Mendes, who started skiing at 4 and was a member of Heavenly's ski team, will begin racing Giant Slalom on a consistent basis during the 2003/04 season. Mendes, who finished 28th in GS at a World Cup event in Sweden last season, already ranks among the top 20 in the world in both downhill and Super-G.
However, it's not Mendes' ability that particularly impresses Street, although it certainly doesn't hurt. Rather, it's her attitude, moxy and charisma that convinces the former Olympic gold medalist that Mendes is destined for big things at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
"She spreads her wings and acts the way she wants to act and approaches the sports with a very individualistic point of view," said Street, who expressed these feelings at a UNR function last week in Reno. "I like that. I have seen a lot of professional athletes in the sport have that as a common denominator. Daron Rahlves (Truckee) is similar."
Rahlves, who skis out of Sugar Bowl, would be our nation's lone men's superstar if not for Bode Miller, who currently ranks second in the overall world standings. The 29-year-old Rahlves, though, is ranked second in the world in downhill and is coming off a gold medal win in January at a World Cup event in Kitzbuehel, Austria. He already has raced in two Olympic Games and there's no reason why he won't again in Torino.
"He has proved himself a little bit. Winning in Kitzbuehel obviously puts a feather in his hat as one of the the toughest skiers to ever bless the sport," Street said. "When you win Kitzbuehel, you have become 'The Man'. Then there is a transplant from Maine. Her name is Kristen Clark and she lives in the Squaw area. She has a great chance to be super successful as well."
Street, who retired after the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, wants, in some capacity, to always be involved with the U.S. Ski Team. She hopes the roots she planted during her stellar career has helped put the U.S. on the world ski map. Until the 2002/2003 season, one of the most successful ever for the U.S., our country has never been mentioned in the same breath as countries like Austria and Switzerland. We're getting close, Street says.
"The team has a lot. I could go on and on for hours about how many good athletes they have what a great chance they have of reaching their goal being the best team in the world in 2006. It has a chance to be special."
Jeremy Evans is a Nevada Appeal sports writer.