BEND, Ore. – Kristina Strandberg moved to Bend from Sweden. Evelyn Dong moved to Bend from the East Coast. And Chisa Obayashi just recently transplanted herself in Bend all the way from Hokkaido in Japan. They all have been training with the XC Oregon program director and coach John “JD” Downing.
“The three of them are in pretty identical positions, in three different ways. Evelyn is just on the cusp of a breakthrough, Chisa is on the cusp of making the Japanese national team, and Kristina has raced on the Swedish World Cup team,” Downing said.
Obayashi, 25, first came to Bend in June, but the initial set-up happened earlier this spring.
“I tried the SuperTour in the spring, and Peter Hale, the racing manager for Madshus USA, introduced me to some club teams in the USA. I chose Bend and XC Oregon, and JD accepted me,” Obayashi recalled.
Downing was excited to welcome Obayashi to Bend and explained that the chemistry with the women on the team could not have been better.
“Chisa and Kristina really hit it off and trained together daily. The design of our program is perfect for that,” he said.
Independent and flexible
“Our program is pretty much perfect for Chisa in that it is so athlete-driven. It lets the athletes dictate how they train, and because the program is so athlete-based, I as the director didn’t really do much for Chisa on a regular basis besides making sure the logistics were covered and match her up with training partners,” Downing said.
Downing explained that self-reliance has been part of his coaching philosophy since the XC Oregon program was established 12 years ago, and that the independence helps athletes excel.
“Chisa could easily have flourished in a more structured training environment as well, but I think she really benefitted from seeing how independently athletes train here and how they can take advantage of the support when it’s there,” Downing said. “Bend is an amazing place to train, and one of the best places in the world for skiers.”
On her first visit, Obayashi stayed for three weeks. She arrived just as the snow season was transitioning into dryland. She didn’t mind at all, as Bend has plenty to offer no matter what the time of year.
“I really like Bend. Bend is a great place for training. It has the best weather, and it has some really nice roller ski courses and big mountains,” Obayashi said. She ended up training a lot with Strandberg – much more than Strandberg had imagined to start with.
“She is pretty much a self-coached athlete, and after one of her first camp workouts, she wondered what I was doing the next week. So I sent her my training plan for the week and I figured she could pick out which workouts she wanted to join me for. But then she just said that the plan looked great and did all of it with me,” Strandberg said with a laugh.
In love with Bend
In fact, Bend was such an amazing place for Obayashi this spring that she e-mailed Strandberg from a New Zealand training camp this summer and wondered if she couldn’t come and stay with her for, say, four weeks this September.
“You always start to wonder when someone comes to stay with you for several weeks, how on earth that is going to go. We don’t exactly have the largest house in town. But she is the easiest house guest ever. She immediately told us she likes housework and likes to cook, and she did a lot of both,” Strandberg said, mentioning that homemade sushi and Japanese specialties often landed on her dining table.
Mutual benefits and lasting impressions
“Kristina and Evelyn taught me some training methods and ways to weight train,” Obayashi said. “They are very strong and have very strong spirits. I have a lot of respect for them, and want to train to become as strong as they are.”
While Strandberg and Dong might have taught Obayashi a lot about their training methods and sent her home with some new tricks – most importantly, more focus on heavy strength training – Obayashi certainly left her impression on the Bend girls too.
“Skiing with Chisa was valuable, because she has perfect technique every minute she is out there,” said Dong. “She is never sloppy, even when we’re just going easy. You can tell she puts a lot of hours into perfecting every detail. That’s probably the thing that stuck out the most and hopefully will stick with me the most,” Dong noted.
Obayashi inspired Strandberg and Dong in ways that go far beyond the trails.
“She is incredibly polite and expressed such gratitude whenever she got help. She was always nice and kept her stuff in meticulous order. Even on training camps when things start to go everywhere for all of us, Chisa kept her stuff neat and packed away,” Strandberg said.
For the upcoming season, the three skiers are in very similar positions. They all have to prove their potential to earn spots on their respective teams, and they all dream big.
Strandberg, 35, will try to make the Swedish World Cup team again this season, but she knows it will be hard.
“It’s a very hard team to get onto at this point, and it will be more interesting for the coaches to pick a 20-year-old than a 35-year-old, everything else being equal,” Strandberg explained. “But I will race hard and do my best, and if I make it, it would be fantastic.”
Obayashi will go to Muonio, Finland, with the elite ski team from Japan. “I want to get a chance to race at the World Championships in Oslo and get a good result,” she said.
However, to make it to Oslo, Obayashi will need to have all the stars aligned for her.
“She has to ski really well to make it to the World Cup,” Strandberg said. “She’s a distance racer, but she hopes to make it to the World Championships this year. It would be amazing if she did.”
Dong, 25, also has her eyes on Oslo.
“My goals for the season? I’m aiming big. I want to go to the World Champs and make top 30,” she said.
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.