Last season, Dasha Gaiazova was making headlines with a strong World Cup campaign which saw her pick up her first World Cup medal, and finish 6th in the Team Sprint at World Championships in Oslo, Norway.
However, she has spent much of this spring and summer in limbo due to a disagreement with Cross Country Canada (CCC) and the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST).
Earlier this year, at a CNST training camp in Bend, Oregon, Gaiazova was removed from the World Cup Team, and has been training independently ever since.
In a recent interview with FasterSkier, CCC Director of High Performance Tom Holland made it clear that the situation with Gaiazova stemmed from a number of issues, first and foremost being her commitment to the team.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Holland said, alluding to previous instances of disagreement with Gaiazova.
“I think that Justin [CNST Head Coach Justin Wadsworth] asked for a lot out of athletes,” he said.
When interviewed earlier this fall, Gaiazova listed the travel requirements of the team as something that she struggled with.
Gaiazova also explained the specific incident in Bend that resulted in her removal from the team.
“On May 25th I asked to be excused from a workout, and was told if I didn’t show up I would be removed from the team,” she said.
Gaiazova felt she needed to rest, and didn’t talk to Wadsworth clearly about it. As a result, she didn’t show up for the workout, and Wadsworth bought her a ticket and flew the top sprinter home.
“It’s a culmination of many small incidents that drove Justin crazy,” she said.
“I’m not saying I’m perfect myself. I have a lot of issues – I have poor communication skills, and I can understand how I wouldn’t make sense.”
When Wadsworth was asked earlier this fall about Gaiazova’s dismissal, he agreed with the female sprinter on the facts of the situation, but declined to elaborate further.
“There was an incident that happened in Bend, at the training camp there, and based on that incident Dasha was sent home,” Wadsworth said.
In addition, Wadsworth said that Gaiazova’s actions had been thoroughly discussed in mediation, and that she knew what had caused her dismissal, and how she could return to the team.
“The action steps have been put in place, and now we’re just trying to take those steps,” he said.
But there remains some confusion about Gaiazova’s status on the Canadian National Ski Team.
The CCC website lists her as her own separate category – she is the sole member of the ‘Senior Team’. Meanwhile, at the recent CCC press conference announcing the 2011-2012 National Ski Team, Gaiazova was again singled out as being a member of the ‘Senior Team’, as opposed to the World Cup team.
In an interview with FasterSkier, Holland confirmed that she is currently on what he termed a “parallel World Cup team” with the ultimate goal of reintegrating her into the existing Canadian high performance framework.
CCC has made a large commitment to Gaiazova, and according to Holland, they expect the same in return.
“In any conflict there has to be some give and take if you want to succeed -we’re not interested in creating a separate program for the next three years,” he said.
“We have a good working group around her, including her personal coach and some of the integrated support team.”
Holland was clear about the interim nature of the situation.
“We’re not setting this up for the next three years – this is a special case because of what happened this spring,” he said.
While it is clear that the goal is to have Gaiazova return to the World Cup team full-time, Holland was reluctant to pick a specific date.
“We will be evaluating along the way, our goal is integration. We’re not getting stuck on where we’re going,” he said.
“Right now we’re focused on taking any stress away from the team and from Dasha herself in preparation for the World Cup season.”
As a result, Gaiazova was coached all summer, and continues to be coached primarily by John Jaques, the head of Rocky Mountain Racers, a Banff and Canmore based club with several high level senior skiers.
Jaques has been working as an intermediary between Gaiazova and the National Ski Team, and participated in the recent CNST camp in Park City in order to communicate with Wadsworth and build a working relationship.
According to Wadsworth, he and Jaques are working together to monitor Gaiazova’s training.
“We want to make sure that Dasha is taken care of, and has someone to look after her training,” Wadsworth said.
“We’re just trying to move forward in a positive fashion to give Dasha the best opportunity and to have a good season, and still work within the confines of the National Ski Team.”
While Gaiazova has yet to attend a workout with the National Team since leaving the teams camp in Bend, Oregon, she has still been training hard.
But will her extended absence from training with the other two top women in the country, Perianne Jones and Chandra Crawford, have an impact on her skiing?
“I can’t say so – I have no idea,” said Gaiazova.
“This might really affect my season, but I try not to dwell on it too much.”
In addition to missing opportunities to train with the likes of Crawford and Jones, Gaiazova has found that the time and energy she devoted to the entire process has been a drain.
“It’s been a very negative experience psychologically,” she said.
According to Gaiazova, the time away from the team has had some positive effect on her growth as an athlete.
“I really took the time to understand what is expected from staff and athletes at CCC,” she said.
“I think in a way we were able to tackle the issues that might have been brushed under the rug before. Going through the process will really address the core issues that caused this whole thing.”
The experience has forced her into a much greater understanding of how the Canadian sport organization works, and how she needs to behave within the system.
“There’s definitely a lot more professionalism,” she said. “I understand a little bit more why they do things, and how things are done.
“Same for myself, I learned where I can be more professional and where I am expected to be professional. I’ve grown a lot going through the appeal.”
And Gaiazova is clear that she wants to return to the NST.
“I’ve been on the National Team for seven years, and it’s where I belong.”