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Sofia Oberg Grew Up in a Culture of Running In Her Native Sweden-A Tradition She's Bringing to the Cal Cross Country Team

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For Sofia Oberg, growing up in Lidingo, Sweden, necessarily meant being raised around the sport of running.

Her hometown, on an island just east of Stockholm, is home to one of the country's premier athletic events-Lidingoloppet, an annual cross country race that regularly draws tens of thousands of local and international participants.

"We have around 30,000 people on our island and around the race the population ... doubled," says Oberg, who was already beginning to train closely with a coach at age 12. "So it's a pretty big thing. Running is just something that you always do."

As Oberg nonchalantly reels off her list of career accomplishments, it becomes clear that not too many girls her age did it better than she did.

A member of the Swedish national team since 2005 and a future hopeful for the 2012 Olympic games in London, she has participated in the World Junior and World Youth Championships and captured a national title in her main event, the 800 meters.

The decision to attend an American university came as a result of encouragement by Oberg's father, a Harvard graduate, but it was also a necessity, due to the absence of big-time collegiate athletics back home.

"When you're my age, you can't really combine education and running here (in Sweden)," says Oberg, who came up through a club training system that was separate from her home equivalents of high school or college.

This fall, Oberg will trade in one blue and gold uniform for another, as the freshman begins her first season with the Cal cross country team in preparation for running track in the spring. That means running bigger races-in a bigger place.

Indeed, coming to a campus with a population not much smaller than her home city, as well as a less intimate training background, has taken some getting used to.

"I'm more used to training more by myself," Oberg says. "And I had contact with my coach on the phone (to) look at my sessions everyday. It became a personal contact, too, because he had followed me since I was 11 or 12. It was more personal than a coach who watches over 40 people."

Adjusting to running with a more team-oriented mindset has also been a change for Oberg, and is best exemplified in her transition from her regular 800-meter distance during track to the 6,000-meter cross country races during the fall.

Now, she's not breaking out as quickly as possible as she would in her half-mile competition. Oberg must concentrate more on finding teammates and staying close together as long as possible among a field of hundreds of runners, because the team's overall score depends heavily on minimizing the gap between the top-scoring runners.

"In the 800, it's more individual," she says. "I'm really competing against myself. I know my body, so I know what I'm going to feel at 400, at 450 and I don't get nervous. In cross country, you can't always predict it."

Nevertheless, the new team experience during cross country has been rewarding for her personally.

"It's a different feeling of team spirit; it's great to motivate each other and perform together," Oberg says.

And despite the longer distances-the 6k races are two kilometers longer than Oberg's regular cross country competition back home-the fall season has been great preparation and endurance training for the track and field season.

"Even as a speed runner, you need to build up your aerobic base," says teammate Allison Greggor. "You can only do speed training for so long. Sofia's definitely has a lot of raw talent, and I think down the road it will only make her stronger."

Indeed, getting stronger is Oberg's goal as she prepares to compete in her signature event during the spring. And as she works toward her Olympic goals during the summer back in Sweden, Oberg will continue running in some form of blue and gold.


Contact Ed Yevelev at [email protected]

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