February 3, 2013, Sochi, Rus (ISN) – Daria Gaiazova and Perianne Jones celebrated the first Canadian medal on the 2014 Olympic venues in Sochi, Russia, winning the bronze medal in a World Cup classic-ski team sprint race on Sunday.
Gaiazova, of Banff, Alta., and Jones, of Almonte, Ont. dug deep with a gutsy effort on the tricky Olympic track to win their first team sprint medal together in a photo finish.
“Oh my god that was so much fun today,” beamed Gaiazova, who had her best individual result three weeks ago when she was fourth in a sprint race in Liberec, Czech Republic. “I was coming down the finish with the Norwegian girl and I remember thinking to myself ‘Do not be fourth again!’ I just went like hell and fought for the podium. I wanted the silver, but I am so happy to get on the podium.”
It was a team effort both on and off the snow as warm, sunny conditions played havoc for the world’s best ski techs who were left scrambling to find the proper kick wax before and during the race.
The 27-year-old Jones skied the first leg for the Canadians around the 1.3-kilometre track, which climbs to a plateau and flows along the top before plummeting down into the stadium for the finish. Struggling on the climb, Jones battled to keep contact with the pack before handing off to Gaiazova for her first of three trips around the Sochi trail. Athletes tag each other between each leg.
“I was really struggling with my skis on the first lap, and then the techs totally aced it and responded so well by giving me a new pair of skis that worked for the final two laps,” said Jones. “This is a huge confidence boost for sure. Daria and I are both feeling good in classic right now so we were really looking forward to today.”
Watching Jones’ painful first lap, the team’s wax techs scrambled to get the 29-year-old Gaiazova on the right skinny skis that would get the Canucks back on track and guide them to the podium.
“That was a really tough waxing day, and our techs worked so hard to get us on the podium today,” said Gaiazova. “They finally chose my skis seven minutes before I had to race. I give them lots of credit for this medal.”
Battling from the back of the group over the next three exchanges, the field came together in the second exchange as the Russians and Norwegians got tangled up and crashed in the transition area. Working their way in the middle of the pack, Jones set Gaiazova up for a run at the podium sending her World Cup comrade off for her final lap in fifth spot where she double poled like mad to the memorable finish.
“We have to remember this is just another World Cup, but at the same time it is really good to know over the year that we can, and did, medal on the Olympic course. That gives us a lot of confidence,” said the Russian-born Gaiazova, whose grandmother still lives just outside of Moscow. “My grandmother was bummed that she couldn’t come to the venue to see me. When I got to the end and saw the cameras, I knew she would have been shouting and cheering while watching on TV. I knew she would have been really happy.”
Finland’s Mona-Lisa Malvalehto and Anne Kylloenen won the gold medal. Russia’s Julia Ivanova and Natalia Matveeva edged out the Canucks in the fight for the silver.
It was the second-career podium finish for both Gaiazova and Jones in a team sprint, but first with each other, and the first classic-ski medal in the discipline for these Canadian women. Both of the medal-winning Canadians have teamed up with Olympic champion, Chandra Crawford, over the last two years to win a bronze in World Cup team sprint skate-ski race.
“I think it is huge that we have all been on the team sprint podium twice now with each,” said Jones. “This shows every combination works for us and we are all strong. It just depends on who is feeling the best on any given day so that is a big plus heading into the Olympics.”
The bronze-medal finish is a flashback to the past for the Canadians on the road to the Games. Canada’s George Grey and Alex Harvey also won a bronze medal in the Olympic test event at Whistler Olympic Park in 2009. It was the young Harvey’s first career World Cup medal.
With Harvey on the sidelines nursing a sore shoulder Sunday, Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., battled through illness to hit the start line with Toronto’s Len Valjas. The Canadian duo just missed qualifying for the finals.
The hard-earned medal now guarantees that each of Canada’s seven men’s and women’s skiers are all in the prestigious red group with the top-30 skiers in the overall rankings on the World Cup.
“One of our goals as a team was to get every national team member in the red group, and we are there now,” said Justin Wadsworth, head coach, Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team. “That is a huge accomplishment for our program to have every athlete in that group and we are very proud of that.”
The World Cup circuit takes a week off before resuming in Davos, Switzerland, February 16-17, 2013.
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, AltaGas, Statoil and Canadian Pacific – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium and B2ten, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at www.cccski.com
Complete World Cup Results: www.fis-ski.com
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
1. Mona-Lisa Malvalehto/Anne Kylloenen, FIN; 2. Julia Ivanova/Natalia Matveeva, RUS; 3. Daria Gaiazova, Banff, Alta./Perianne Jones, Almonte, Ont., CAN; 4. Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen/Celine Brun-Lie, NOR; 5. Ida Sargent/Sadie Bjornsen, USA