Gaiazova Aims to Up Her Mental Game

Kieran JonesFebruary 17, 2011
Dasha Gaiazova racing in the World Cup sprint in Otepaa, Estonia in late January.

In skiing, the focus is on pushing your body to the limits.

Generally, most assume that to mean physical limits. But for emerging Canadian sprint star Dasha Gaiazova, it’s all about another limit – her mental one.

“Last year, it was so simple for me,” she told FasterSkier, “I had one goal in front of me – to make the Olympics, and everything I did was to get me closer to that.”

However, this season Gaiazova has felt overwhelmed, at times, with having numerous focal points within her approach to the sport.

“We’re trying to make the Red Group, we’re trying to do well in Oslo, we’re trying to do well in the individual World Cups,” she said. “Somehow, through the early part of the season, I was struggling mentally with the racing – especially sprinting.”

For Gaiazova, as she was struggling to find her groove, she felt her racing suffered, and the tipping point was the World Cup in Davos, Switzerland.

“Davos was a real low point for me,” said Gaiazova, “Mentally, I was totally falling apart, not really doing the things I should be doing on so many levels.”

Her results were not terrible – 61st in the 10 k classic and 39th in the skate sprint – but both were events in which she has achieved top-30 results in the past.

After Davos, Gaiazova headed back to Canada, where she leaned heavily on her sport psychologist to get her back into racing form, a process which she called both “amazing” and “productive.”

“I tend to dwell on silly things,” Gaiazova said. “I will start going into statistics, and my sport psychologist will remind me ‘this is irrelevant – for you, it’s just another race.’”

While at home, she also managed to spend quality time with her boyfriend, catch up with friends, and find the time to make sure she enjoyed skiing – all things that she considers an important part of the mental recovery process.

“I even skied a new trail that I had never skied before in Banff,” she said.

Gaiazova managed to go almost three full weeks without a serious race – and then when she did put a bib on again, she turned in top performances. In three domestic races, she recorded two wins and one second-place finish, which she said were helpful in rebuilding her confidence – which had been at a low point during the World Cup trip.

“You say ‘I know I can do this, I believe in myself,’ and then you’re not meeting those expectations again and again,” said Gaiazova. “It hurts your confidence, so it’s always good to go back, rebuild the confidence, and then take another run at it.”

After heading back on the road in Europe in January, Gaiazova continued to be in touch with her sport psychologist.

“We still do a lot of work,” she said, “We speak every week on the phone, no matter where I am.”

Gaiazova says that she has made progress, and that in addition to feeling physically at her peak for Olso, she will be there mentally as well.

Thus far, it has paid off – quite literally. In the World Cup sprint in late January in Estonia, she recorded her first-ever top-10 finish on the circuit. In finishing eighth, Gaiazova picked up a cheque for 750 Swiss francs.

Kieran Jones

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