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LAHTI, Fin. (ISN) —
Daria Gaiazova led the Canadian contingent into the top-15 on a tough sprint day on the World Cup in Lahti, Finland Sunday.

The 28-year-old Gaiazova, of Banff, Alta., qualified in eighth spot for the round of 30 in the head-to-head heats. Taking advantage of a strong start, Gaiazova tucked in the middle of her pack of six while striding powerfully up the steep climbs andholding on during the slick downhills of the Lahti course.

With the top-two athletes in each heat advancing to the next round, the 2010 Olympian was in a fight for second spot in her quarter-final heat, but was edged out at the line, leaving her in 13th place and celebrating one of her best individual performances on the World Cup.

“My goal is always to get into the semis but I came up a little short today,” said Gaiazova. “I really enjoy the classic sprint. There is lots of opportunity to move around and I have good technique. I tried to take advantage of that today.”

Norway’s Marit Bjoergen won the women’s race. Russia’s Julia Ivanova was second, while Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk grabbed the bronze medal.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s 23-year-old Len Valjas was the lone Canadian to move into the heats on the men’s side of the draw. Qualifying in 27th spot, Valjas’ quest for the podium also came to a halt in a tough quarter-final round where he crossed the line fourth to finish 19th.

“I am happy to get back into the top-30, but it didn’t go as well as I wanted today,” said Valjas. “It was really icy and tough, and I felt kind of flat today. I’m looking forward to getting to Drammen next week.”

Sweden’s Emil Joensson won the men’s sprint. Joensson was joined on the podium by countryman, Teodor Petersen. Russia’s Nikita Kriukov rounded out the men’s podium.

Other Canadians that suited up on Sunday, but did not qualify in the top-30 included: Alysson Marshall, of Salmon Arm, B.C., in 37th; Perianne Jones, of Almont, Ont., in58th; and Chandra Crawford, of Canmore, Alta., finishing 69th in the women’s race. Alex Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., placed 44th, while Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., finished 54th in men’s action.

The Canadian team will now head to Drammen, Norway for a World Cup race on Wednesday.

Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 55,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities, including those on Canada’s National Ski Teams and Para-Nordic Ski Teams. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Haywood Securities Inc., AltaGas, Teck Resources Ltd., Canadian Pacific, and Statoil – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and Own the Podium, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at