When Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) member Dasha Gaiazova finished her season a little less than a month ago, it ended a hectic run of racing for the emerging star.
In two years, Gaiazova had notched her first Olympic experience, earned her first World Cup medal, qualified for 5 of 7 World Cup sprints, finished 20th at the World Championships sprint in Oslo, Norway, and finished 31st in the Sprint Cup standings.
“It feels good to be done the season,” she said in a recent interview with FasterSkier.
“It seems like the last two seasons have been really hard, with so many important races and so many expectations.”
For Gaiazova, the Olympics in Vancouver was a massive focus, and immediately following her success last season, she began targeting World Championships in Oslo, Norway.
The first race at World Championships was the individual skate sprint, an event which Gaiazova had excelled in over the course of the World Cup season, finishing in the top 30 three times.
After qualifying 27th, Gaiazova managed to move up into 20th, but still below where she had hoped to end up.
“I would rate the sprint as a B+,” she said. “There were a few mistakes I made that cost me a better result.”
Gaiazova felt the biggest mistakes were tactical, and aims to improve on them heading into next season.
“It seems sprinting has become so much more tactical, which for me is an area where I can get a lot better,” she said.
After finishing 37th in the 10 k classic, Gaiazova lined up for the Team Sprint with Perianne Jones, a member of the CNST who narrowly edged out Olympic gold-medalist Chandra Crawford for the spot on the two-person relay.
“I was really pumped to race it with Peri – she had such an amazing race in 2009 [at World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic] with Sara [Renner], so I knew she was going to be on her game,” said Gaiazova.
The two combined for a 6th place finish, equal to that of Jones and Renner at the 2009 World Championships in Liberec.
“I thought we did amazingly well,” Gaiazova said. “When I crossed the line Peri was waiting there, and the first thing I said was ‘This is the hardest race of my season, possibly my life,’ so it doesn’t get much better, at least in terms of effort.”
World Championships in Oslo was the third Championships for Gaiazova, and like many other athletes, she was blown away by the experience.
“When you’re in Norway, it has to be over the top amazing,” she said. “It’s almost like the Las Vegas of cross country skiing – everything is high stakes, glamorous, and the King of Norway is there.”
“I doubt if any future competitions will ever come close to rivaling the atmosphere we had at World Champs,” she said, “I’m glad in my lifetime, and in my generation of cross-country skiers we were able to go there, because it’s just such a rare treat.”
Following her strong World Championships, Gaiazova headed to Lahti, Finland, for a World Cup weekend, and a chance at finishing in the top 50 in the World Cup Overall standings, thus qualifying for the World Cup Final in Sweden.
However, Gaiazova struggled, failing to find the form she had displayed earlier in the season.
She finished 48th in the classic sprint, and 66th in the 10 k pursuit, far back of her previous bests on the World Cup over the course of the season.
But Gaiazova wasn’t discouraged by the results – she was realistic.
“It’s been my pattern this year,” said Gaiazova. “In December I spent five weeks in Europe, and the last World Cup weekend in Davos [Switzerland] was really tough.”
“But it was a good chance for me to try and make the World Cup Finals. I knew that I could peter out, and that possibly it could not go well.”
For Gaiazova, just having a shot to go to the World Cup Finals was a big step. And she tried some new tactics in an attempt to grab those much-needed points.
In collaboration with CNST Head Coach Justin Wadsworth, Gaiazova came up with a strategy for the pursuit to snag a few extra points. Gaiazova hit the start line with one goal – “ski super hard for the first four kilometers.”
As it turned out, four kilometers was a tall order against the fastest women in the world, and Gaiazova only managed to ski fast for the first two, and then “the wheels came off.”
However, Gaiazova felt the strategy was worthwhile considering her situation, and what she learned from the experience.
“For future, with proper training and proper planning, it could be good. I didn’t expect to be fighting to just get there – I went out at my sprint pace, which was a pretty gutsy move.”
And she followed it up with another pretty gutsy move – hopping on a plane in Europe and making a bee-line for Canmore, Alberta, and Canadian National Championships.
Originally, like her team mate Chandra Crawford, Gaiazova had planned to try and race within 12 hours of landing, but instead opted to take a day off.
It was Gaiazova’s second attempt at racing extremely jet-lagged, and she doesn’t recommend it.
“It’s not a pleasant feeling, I can tell you that much,” she said.
However, Gaiazova felt that her presence at Canadian Nationals was important.
“Just to race in Canada, having all the best Canadian up and coming racers there, and giving them a chance to race with us, I think was really important,” she said.
“For the development of the sport in the country and the ski community, it was good to have Chandra and I race.”
And Gaiazova gave the kids something to see, winning the classic sprint, and then finishing as the top Canadian in the 30 k freestyle, out-sprinting fellow World Championship veteran Brooke Gosling to the line.
With the end of Canadian Nationals, Gaiazova switched gears to relaxation mode. But she hasn’t gotten far from a pair of skis – she has taken the opportunity this spring to try her hand at another type of skiing – she has been trying to learn how to telemark ski.
She has also already begun a little bit of training for next season, as for the whole month of April, she will be doing some basic strength, balance, and core muscles exercises.
“Apparently last year Justin wasn’t impressed with our level of fitness in May,” she said, laughing.
And as for the CNST training camp in Hawaii?
“I’m excited, but I’m cautious,” said Gaiazova.
“We are going for a training camp, and we’re supposed to go to high altitude.”
And according to Gaiazova, the team will be camping, an experience she is excited about. “For me, camping equals adventure, and adventure equals fun!”