FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2013 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, is brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports.
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy – When Dasha Gaiazova and Perianne Jones woke up Sunday morning to see heavily falling snowflakes and some serious accumulation, they joked that racing would be just like back home in Canada.
“I thought, ‘It’s like Silver Star,’ ” Gaiazova said, referring to British Columbia’s mountain town. “Like, ‘I remember this.’ ”
The two reasoned the fresh powder for the 6 x 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint at the 2013 Nordic World Ski Championships shouldn’t be much of a problem. It wasn’t going to make three laps around Lago di Tesero’s challenging sprint course much easier, but all 25 teams faced the same conditions.
In the second semifinal, Gaiazova and Jones squared off against 12 of them, with Jones scrambling a first leg that could’ve made spectators think they were watching a distance race.
Up the grinding climb out of the stadium, Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg set an unusually low tempo. Jones skied in the middle of the pack and after the first lap, was ninth coming into the stadium. There, she tagged to Gaiazova, who brought the team to seventh on the first hill behind Germany’s Denise Herrmann, Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla and Ilaria Debertolis of Italy up front. Cruising into the stadium in the same position, Gaiazova skied the second-fastest lap.
On the second leg, Jones felt the wheels come off a bit as she slipped to ninth on the initial climb.
“The part where I was losing the most time was over the crest of the hill through the tunnel,” she said after. “People would step on it a little and I just had nothing.”
Gaiazova explained that once you lose contact, no matter how fast the lead group’s going, it’s hard to catch up.
“It wasn’t really like anybody was accelerating; it was just kind of a steady pace,” she said. “As soon as you start losing a little bit, it actually feels tougher to catch back then normally you would.”
Ninth into the second exchange, Gaiazova broke her pole just before receiving the tag. “A girl skied on my pole so I had a bit of a crappy exchange there,” she said.
Gaiazova continued to fight, skiing the fourth-fastest leg to bring the team to seventh. However, on the final lap, the Canadians didn’t have enough to get to the front. Jones said she “just didn’t have any energy” throughout the race, and when she put Gaiazova in seventh for the last lap, there wasn’t much the Canadian anchor could do.
The two finished seventh, 37.56 seconds behind the Norwegian winners, who finished in 21:24.24. Germany and Italy placed second and third, respectively, and Slovenia and Poland six seconds back advanced as well.
“Five teams from our heat qualified and we were seventh, and we weren’t that far off,” Gaiazova said. “It’s not awful. It’s not our best sprint relay.”
The Canadians placed 13th overall on a day highlighted by the U.S. women with Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins winning their nation’s first gold at World Championships. But coming off a podium at the pre-Olympic World Cup in Sochi, Russia, Gaiazova and Jones found their result a bit tough to digest.
“I had a really bad day after the sprint and it’s gradually getting better, but just not back to normal,” Jones said after placing 48th in Thursday’s individual classic sprint and failing to qualify. “I need to get some energy back here because things haven’t been going so well. I really want to salvage the last part of the World Cup season.”
As for the pace of the team sprint, she said it wasn’t anything she shouldn’t be able to handle.
“It was almost like a distance race out there today; super-slow course,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it took us longer to do it today then the other day when we were classicking.”
She was right. Finland’s Mona-Liisa Malvalehto’s winning qualifying time on Thursday was nearly five seconds faster than the Østberg’s fastest first leg. Granted, team sprints involve calculated pacing, as opposed to a prologue, but on Sunday they were skating.
Moving on, Gaiazova said she’d start Tuesday’s 10-kilometer freestyle interval start. She was feeling normal, she said, and felt especially generated after her Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre teammate, Alex Harvey, won bronze in the men’s classic sprint.
“I was pretty stoked after Alex won so the next day I felt really pumped, just loving life,” she said.
As for Sunday: “We were there for the most part, like, I think we had a great start,” Gaiazova said. “I think both of us did the best we could today.”