Daria Gaiazova Finishes as Top Canadian in Sixteenth at World Cup Finals in Sweden

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March 20, 2013, Stockholm, Swe (ISN) – Daria Gaiazova led three Canadians into the knockout heats after a personal best fourth-place qualifier in the cross-country ski classic-sprint race at the opening day of the World Cup Finals in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old Olympian, who was the lone Canadian woman to qualify for the round of 30, was hungry for her first individual podium while powering her way through the high winds that whipped through Sweden’s Royal Palace. But the Banff, Alta. resident wasn’t able to capitalize on a waxing strategy, and was forced to the sidelines after crossing the line fourth in her quarter-final round.

“If I could do it over again I would have attacked from the front and tried to breakaway,” said Gaiazova. “The body felt amazing. My skis were fast, but I went light on the kick wax. I had no kick for the uphill, but we thought I’d be much faster in the double poling section. The other girls just had more kick and were stronger than me up the hill. I am happy, but want to come back here next year and get on the podium.”

Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk was the top woman on the day, while Norway’s Marit Bjoergen skied to the silver-medal position on the podium, and Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen locked up the bronze.

On the men’s side of the draw Devon Kershaw and Len Valjas also narrowly qualified for the head-to-head heats, but each finished fourth in the opening round and were eliminated. Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., placed 18th, while Toronto’s Valjas finished 20th.

Norway’s Petter Northug won the men’s sprint. Eirik Brandsdal, also of Norway, finished second, while Russia’s Nikita Kriukov claimed third spot.

Other Canadians that competed in the World Cup Finals but did not qualify for the heats included: Alex Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., in 32nd; Michael Somppi, of Thunder Bay, Ont., in 48th; and distance specialist, Ivan Babikov of Canmore, Alta., in 50th.

Meanwhile, over at the 2014 Paralympic venue in Sochi, Russia, three Canadians suited up for the short-distance biathlon races at the IPC World Cup Finals.

Mark Arendz, of Springton, P.E.I., who won the World Championships in the 7.5-kilometre sprint earlier this month, had a solid day, but finished off the podium in fifth spot in the men’s standing division.

Double gold medallist in the cross-country skiing events this week, Brian McKeever, joined up with his guide and fellow Canmore, Alta. resident, Erik Carleton, to lock up a fifth-place finish in a rare biathlon start in the men’s visually impaired category.

In a strategic move as part of the organization’s Paralympic qualifying strategy, McKeever missed only one shot on the range, and skied just three seconds from a silver medal.

“I hadn’t made one shot in a year so I had no expectations going in to this race other than to help out the team,” said the 33-year-old McKeever. “I’m glad I was able to shoot well and post a good result.”

Ottawa’s Margarita Gorbounova and her guide of Phil Wood, finished eighth in the women’s visually impaired race.

The IPC World Cup Finals wrap up in Sochi on Thursday with a long distance biathlon competition. The World Cup Finals continue in Sweden on Friday with a short-distance skate-ski prologue start.

Complete IPC World Cup Finals Results: http://www.paralympic.org/NordicSkiing/Calendar

Complete World Cup Finals Results: http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/1228.html?     event_id=31862&cal_suchsector=CC  

Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:

1. Justyna Kowalczyk, POL; 2. Marit Bjoergen, NOR; 3. Kerttu Niskanen, FIN; 4. Anne Kylloenen, FIN; 5. Katja Visnar, SLO

Canadian Results:

16. Daria Gaiazova, Banff, Alta.; 47. Emily Nishikawa, Whitehorse

Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:

1. Petter Northug, NOR; 2. Eirik Brandsdal, NOR; 3. Nikita Kriukov, RUS; 4. Teodor Peterson, SWE; 5. Tomas Northug, NOR

Other Canadian Results:

18. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont.; 20. Len Valjas, Toronto; 32. Alex Harvey, St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que.; 48. Michael Somppi, Thunder Bay, Ont.; 50. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta.