Canada's Daria Gaiazova fourth in cross-country World Cup sprints

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LIBEREC, Czech Republic - Canada's Daria Gaiazova just missed out on her first individual World Cup podium on Saturday after finishing fourth in a photo finish at a classic cross-country ski sprint race.

"I'm supper happy with fourth and my best ever World Cup finish," said Gaiazova, from Banff, Alta., who won a bronze medal in 2010 in the team sprint with Chandra Crawford. "I really believe a podium will come this year. I believe in that and I am committed to."

After qualifying in 10th for the head-to-head heats with the top-30, Gaiazova moved into the second round after finishing in a dead heat with eventual race winner Mona-Lisa Malvalehto of Finland in her quarter-final draw. The top-two athletes move on to the next round. Gaiazova advanced into the first final of her career after placing second in her semifinal heat where she was also matched up with Perianne Jones of Almonte, Ont.

Gaiazova made smart, tactical decisions while drafting the leaders for the majority of her two trips around the one-kilometre loop. While Finland's Malvalehto powered herself to an easy win, Gaiazova was in the middle of a furious sprint to the finish line were she was edged out of the medals.

Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk was second, while Norway's Maiken Caspersen Falla snagged the bronze medal.

"It was a great way to kick off 2013 and I'm super pumped," said Gaiazova. "The wax techs did a great job on my skis today and the staff really helped me get ready for this race. I feel really good and I am excited for the team sprint with Perianne tomorrow."

Chandra Crawford, of Canmore, Alta., also qualified for the heats, but was knocked out in the opening round and finished 29th.

In men's competition, Toronto's Len Valjas sprinted into 10th spot.

After advancing into the second round, the 24-year-old skied near the back of the pack in the semifinal heat where he was not able to make a charge to the front. His quest for the podium came to an end after finishing fifth in his heat.

Sweden's Teodor Peterson won the men's race. Emil Joensson, also of Sweden, sprinted to the silver medal, while Norway's Paal Golberg grabbed the bronze.