I had the chance recently to sit down and talk triathlon with my long time good friend and former roommate, Osamu Chiba. Please join me as we get to know this TCSD legend.
Craig: What was your sports background prior to triathlon?
Osamu: I've been active my whole life, and I particularly loved soccer, karate, and motocross as I was growing up.
Craig: What was it like for you to move from Japan to the US?
Osamu: I was almost 19 years old when I left Japan, and that was December 4, 1991. I finished high school and was going to Palomar College from Spring Semester in the following year. I didn't know anyone in the U.S., but I thought I would just stay in a motel for a few days until I would find a permanent place near the college. While I was trying to figure out how to go to San Marcos in the SD airport, an old Japanese lady approached to me. Once I explained my situation, she helped me out to start my life in the U.S. Needless to say, I can never thank her enough. At that time, I could understand what people were saying (well, not always), but my speaking definitely needed to be improved.
Craig: How did you get started with triathlons?
Osamu: I wrecked my car back in December 1992 while I was driving in L.A. So I had to sell my dirt bike to get a replacement. That's how I quit motocross. Soon a friend of mine told me about triathlons, and I decided to give it a shot since I didn't like being inactive. I went back to Japan in the summer of 1993 to make money. I came back to the U.S. for fall semester and bought a tri-bike at Fleet Feet in Solana Beach.
Craig: What are some of your favorite memories about the early days of the Tri Club?
Osamu: I joined the club back in September 1993. Before transferring to Humboldt State University in 1995, some members took me to a restaurant for a lunch. They even gave me a present. It was sad to move out of San Diego, for sure.
Craig: What Ironman races have you done?
Osamu: Vineman in 1998 and Ironman Florida in 1999. In each race, I walked or limped at least 10 miles and I finished 12:15 at V-man and 12 hours and half at Florida. Not fun to walk when you are supposed to run...
Craig: You have done a lot of races over the years from sprint triathlons to Ironmans to Xterras to mountain bike races. What race is your favorite multisport race and why?
Osamu: Xterra. Because of my motocross background, the mountain bike part of off-road triathlons came natural to me, and I was a better rider than many. Usually I don't pass much in road triathlons because courses are generally flat and nothing is technical. In my second Xterra, San Dimas in 2000, I passed a lot of people on the bike. I actually didn't know how much I made up on the bike, but my long-time friend Dave Krosch DNF’d in the race so he saw me arrive back in the transition area when there weren't too many bikes. When Dave told me that after the race, I realized Xterra would be for me.
Craig: How did you meet your wife, Jessica?
Osamu: I kind of knew her through the TCSD e-mail since she was a social director. One weekend I met her in a bike ride (which ended up cancelled due to bad weather). And weeks later my buddy Rob and I rode up to Palomar when the weather was pretty ugly. Coming down from the top, I was really shivering because I was not prepared for the cold. Rob didn't think I would be in any trouble so never looked back. Somewhere in the middle of (slooooooooow) descending I saw Jessica riding up and told her not to go. We both stopped and she realized that I couldn't speak well because my mouth was frozen. So I borrowed her arm warmers, and she rode with me down to the store. Later that night we ended up having a 1 on 1 dinner at Todai to celebrate her birthday because all of her friends cancelled. That's how we started.
Craig: TCSD President, Jim McCann who passed away much too soon at the age of 46 in 2007 was your best friend. What would you like TCSD members to know about your friendship with Jim?
Osamu: He treated me like a little brother, and helped me out even when I didn't ask. Now I know he did similar to other people, but I don't know if anyone else stopped by to see him as much as I did. Maybe Jonathan Toker did as well since he was living so close. As adults, we are all busy and don't have much time to hang out with friends to just do nothing. But Jim was one of very few people I hung out with quite often on the weekends. And Jim always welcomed me.
Craig: Besides your former roommate, who is your favorite triathlete of all time?
Osamu: Mike Pigg because he always pushed really really really hard at races (and of course in training!). Plus, he didn't surrender to ITU when he was threatened to be banned from ITU races. A triathlon in Australia had been using the phrase "World Cup" as part of its name even before ITU existed. But ITU didn't like it and wanted them to drop that. ITU also warned that any athletes who would compete in the Australian race would be banned from ITU races. That was around 1992 or 1993, I think. It was a big deal for Pigg because he was a short distance guy and ITU races were where he made a living. Mark Allen and Scott Tinley were also banned, but they were Ironman guys so they didn't care about ITU. I am not sure if there's any other professional triathletes who could do like Mike did.
Craig: You are an awesome professional photographer and most TCSD members are familiar with your company, Opix. This may be really tough because you've only taken millions of photos, but is there 1 photo or type of photo that you are the most proud of?
Osamu: (Note: everything other than the subject has been turned to black and white.)
I took this photo around May 2006 at Balboa Park, about 2 months before our Maya was born. It was foggy when we got there, but the sunlight just came through leaves and branches when we started shooting. It was a beautiful moment.
Honestly, nothing really stands out in my action pictures. I seem to make better ones every year.
Craig: What would you like people to know about Opix that they might not be aware of?
Osamu: Opix is way better than Brightroom and Action Sports International because...
a) At Opix, you do not see totally-out-of-focus photos because they are weeded out in the sorting process. Professional photographers should never show their bad pics. Those companies aren't really pros, in my opinion, so they don't care.
b) Opix's search engine is the best, especially for swim pics. I don't know if any other companies can let you search by the combination of swim cap color and wetsuit brand. That narrows down to reasonable number of pics to look through.
c) I know at least Brightroom simply prints out with no retouching. I crop, lighten up, and/or correct color balance as needed to make photos best.
I can go on and on, but just one more: I am proud of my work especially because Opix is really my one-man show. Those bigger companies have more resources, but I produce better quality.
Craig: What is the best part of membership in the TCSD?
Osamu: Camaraderie. I've made a lot of friends in the club since I joined the club back in 1993. It's interesting to go to races, camping, etc., with them. And many of them helped me out when I was in trouble. I will never forget that.
Craig: What are your future athletic goals?
Osamu: I can't spend as much money or time for triathlons anymore - my family comes first. So I just want to do a few mountain bike races a year. My real fantasy is to go back to motocross... only if I have tons of money. And it will not likely happen, at least any time soon...
Craig: Osamu, I hope you win the lottery so you can do whatever you want. But keep working because Opix really is the best. Thanks for sharing your story!