Dasha Gaiazova racing in the Canmore World Cup in February. Photo, Win Goodbody.

Dasha Gaiazova exploded onto the North American cross-country scene this past season. She dominated the Nor-Am Cup Circuit, earning seven victories, and never once did she step off the podium in her 11 starts in North America.

Gaiazova also made her mark on the international arena, collecting 63 World Cup points. After being an alternate at the Turin Games in 2006, she earned her first Olympic starts for the Canadian team in Vancouver in the sprint, the pursuit and the relay.

Gaiazova did not take the most conventional route to skiing success. Born in Moscow, the daughter of state microbiologists, Gaiazova and her family were settled in Russia until the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the following economic uncertainty. At that point, the family decided to move.

“My dad always wanted to retire in the USA. That was his dream,” said Gaiazova in an interview on Wednesday. Instead, her father found a job in Montreal, and in 1999 the family immigrated to Canada.

The move from Russia to Canada was not easy. Gaiazova described it as “hard and shocking.” However, she credits skiing as helping to smooth the transition. In Russia, Gaiazova was part of a club, and entered a few races for fun. Soon after she moved to Canada, she saw someone roller skiing in Montreal. “I’m going to ask him for the phone number for his club, because I miss skiing,” she remembered.

The club ended up being Skielite, and she skied and trained with the Montreal-based group for five years. In 2003, Gaiazova moved to Canmore, Alberta, to train and live at the hub of Canadian National Team activity, but still remained a member of Skielite.

Now 26 years old, Gaiazova has established herself as one of the top female skiers in North America after a trip to World Juniors in 2003, 14 Canadian National Championships medals, and appearances at World Championships in 2007 and 2009.

Unlike many other North American athletes, Gaiazova has opted for a more gentle climb in her quest for the top, racing in significantly more Alpen Cups and other European Continental Cup events. Since 2004, she competed in 24 such events, including a two-week stint in 2008 that included five races in Italy, Germany and Switzerland.

Gaiazova racing in the individual sprint at the 2010 Olympic Games.

These European events are of similar caliber to the Nor-Am or Supertour competitions in North America, but with significantly deeper fields.

“Racing those races, if anything, made me more comfortable with racing in Europe. Just because it’s a lower-key event and naturally, you’re not as freaked out about it,” said Gaiazova. She credits these competitions, as well as the experience traveling and racing away from home, as easing her transition to the World Cup level.

For Gaiazova, “successes you get in Europe are huge, and a huge confidence booster.” Her goal at those Continental Cups was merely to prove that she could race fast, and earn World Cup starts, rather than win the European circuit outright.

Despite a stellar campaign in 2008-2009, in the spring of that year, Gaiazova was not named to the Canadian National Ski Team. However, in April of 2009, the International Ski Federation announced that Natalia Matveeva had tested positive for EPO. The Russian sprinter’s results from the latter part of the season were stricken from the record books, which bumped Gaiazova’s World Cup points up enough to place her on the Canadian Development Team last year.

While Gaiazova was not actively supervised by Inge Bråten, the coach of Canada’s World Cup Team, she did have the opportunity to train with that group on a regular basis. Bråten invited her to most workouts, which Gaiazova described as “new and exciting.” In one session in particular, she remembered, “Inge was big on one-skating (V2) and two-skating (V2-alternate) up steep hills, and I’m like, ‘I can’t do this! I have to offset (V1)!’” The first few times she found it really hard, but eventually, Gaiazova improved, and she said she felt it was these new training experiences that helped take her racing to the next level.

It seems to have paid off. Besides her success on the domestic circuit, Gaiazova started 11 World Cups, finishing 12th twice in classic sprints in Canmore and Otepää. She was named to the Canadian Olympic Team, and skied to 22nd in the classic sprint at the Vancouver Games.

When the Canadian Senior National Team announced their roster of the 2010/11 season, Gaiazova had earned a spot on the World Cup Team.

Gaiazova attributed much of her success to quality and consistent training in the dryland season. “I looked back…in my training log, and I realized I did quality work, and I didn’t miss any critical training due to sickness or illness,” she said. “I think that was key to my good racing last winter—really good preparation.”

One particular piece seems to stand out.

“Every day in the back of my mind, I remembered why I was out there and why I was pushing hard: because I wanted to be racing in Whistler,” Gaiazova said.

Despite her success last season, Gaiazova is intent on pushing herself forward for her 2010-2011 campaign. “I’m going to try to do better in sprints,” she said. “I always thought of myself of as distance racer, and now I’m loving sprints, and I’m doing well in them.”

The sprint and the sprint relay are her two big goals for next season’s World Championships in Oslo, Norway—Gaiazova said she hopes to make it to the semi finals in the individual sprint.

What does she think will push her to the next level? “I need to work my starts,” she said. “Need to be quick out of the gate.”

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