With many of the world’s best women eschewing Sunday’s team sprint in Dusseldorf, the outcome of the race wasn’t much of a surprise, as the full-strength Italians, anchored by Saturday’s winner Arianna Follis, skied to a convincing win.
For North Americans, the real news was in the continent’s second podium finish in as many days, thanks to Canadians Dasha Gaiazova and Chandra Crawford—and Slovenia.
With 50 meters left in the race, the Canadians had a firm grip on fourth, though the gap from Crawford to the third-placed Norwegian team was too big to close.
But as Katja Visnar, the Slovenian anchor, neared the line in second place, she did the unthinkable, sticking a pole between her legs and flopping onto the snow. That allowed Celine Brun-Lie (NOR) and Crawford to get past, and it gifted a bronze medal to the Canadian team.
“She went down, and Chandra just went and scooted around,” said Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth. “It’s one of those things that doesn’t happen that often—it’s nice to be on the other end of it.”
Both Gaiazova and Crawford could not be reached for comment after the race. But according to Wadsworth, the pair was strong all day, beginning with their morning semifinal round. The Canadians finished second in that heat, automatically qualifying them for the finals.
“They skied very well…made really good tags, were up near the front most of the time,” Wadsworth said. “They moved up, kept good position. That was a good sign—I knew after watching them in the semis that it was probably going to be good in the finals.”
While both have enjoyed strong results over the first three World Cup weekends, the two Canadian women have different, complementary strengths. Crawford is known more for her speed, especially in skating, while Gaiazova has an equal mix of quickness and endurance.
Crawford has plenty of experience in close-quarter sprint heats, but Gaiazova doesn’t have quite as much—especially at the World Cup level. Wadsworth said that he had been trying to work with her “on being more calm, and just opening her vision more in races.”
That work, Wadsworth said, paid off on Sunday, because the women’s race was packed with crashes—on the few small climbs, in the exchange zone, and of course, near the finish line.
Crawford and Gaiazova always seemed to be at the right place at the right time, leaving themselves with just enough time and space to keep from being hung up. In addition to avoiding Visnar at the finish, the Canadians also avoided a big crash on the final laps that took out the French and Finnish teams.
“I told them to stay in contact and just relax—it’s the last leg for both of them where it all goes down,” Wadsworth said.
Indeed, that was the case, as Gaiazova’s cool left her tagging off to Crawford for the final leg with the Canadian team in fifth place.
“I think she’s really proud of that, for avoiding the crashes and making passes in good, smart areas,” Wadsworth said.
Crawford pulled into fourth soon after the exchange, but with the women only taking one loop around Dusseldorf’s short, 918-meter course in each leg, there wasn’t much time for her to make a move into third place. And indeed, she came into the home stretch too far from Brun-Lie to be able to close the gap—it was Fabjan’s fall that put the Canadians on the podium.
Both the men’s and women’s races ended with messy collisions that affected the top three, but Wadsworth said that his women still deserved just as much credit. Mistakes happen when you’re tired, he said.
“You never like to see something like [Fabjan’s crash], but at the same time, lactate does that to your body,” he said. “It’s all part of skiing, if you are skiing that hard and you can’t keep it together. I’m just glad Chandra was close, right there, to take advantage of it…The ladies skied this really smart.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.