After helping South Korea secure Olympics, Toby Dawson eyes medal as coach
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Seven years ago, Toby Dawson helped Pyeongchang secure the Winter Olympics with a stirring speech at the International Olympic Committee Session in Durban, South Africa.
“My name is Toby Dawson,” he told the IOC in 2011. “My name is also Kim Bong-seok. I am a freestyle skier and I am an Olympian. I am a Korean by birth, yet I am also an American.”
He said hosting the Olympics would improve the lives of future generations of South Koreans, giving them “the same chance that I received when I moved to America in 1981 — the chance to hope, the chance to participate, the chance to excel and the chance to succeed.”
On Thursday, Dawson stood in the finish area of the moguls course at the Winter Olympics, coaching the South Koreans on their home snow.
The dream was finally a reality.
And you can be certain the home crowd will explode in celebration if Dawson’s skiers are able to win a medal in skiing — their first ever — Sunday or Monday in the womens and mens moguls finals.
“That would be another great feather in the cap, to bring a medal after helping bring the Olympics to Korea,” Dawson said Thursday.
In Winter Olympic history, South Korea has won 42 medals in short-track speed skating, nine in speed skating, and two in figure skating, but none in any other sport, including skiing.
A podium is within reach for the team after six years with Dawson at the helm. He has five skiers in the Olympics — up from three in Sochi, Russia, four years ago. Choi Jae-woo on the men’s side has several top-5 finishes on the World Cup, and Seo Jung-hwa has landed in the top 10.
“These were the same group of athletes I started working with when I first came here to Korea, and to get them all qualified in the Olympics was a feat in itself,” he said.
from vail to torino
As for Dawson himself, it’s another step in a remarkable journey.
He was adopted at age 3 by Vail residents Mike and Deborah Dawson. He learned to ski at 4 years old, and began competing in moguls through the Vail program run by Scott and Patti Kauf (whose daughter, Jaelin, is a favorite for a moguls medal at these Olympics). He attended school from Red Sandstone Elementary to Minturn Middle School to Battle Mountain High School, where he played varsity soccer for four years.
But moguls were truly where he excelled. He made the U.S. Ski Team at age 19, and won his first World Cup in 2001.
His shining Olympic moment came at Torino in 2006, where he won bronze.
Dawson became in overnight sensation in South Korea, the country of his birth. His image was splashed across the world, which led to a 2007 reunion with his birth father, and later his birth mother. The family had lost their 3-year-old son at a crowded market in the city of Busan.
“I’ve been waiting a long time, father,” Dawson said at the 2007 reunion, according to news stories at the time.
Four years later, Dawson was brought on as a last-minute speaker at the IOC Session in Durban, South Africa, in 2011, to help put Pyeongchang’s bid over the top. The South Korean city beat out Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France, for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
As part of that successful bid, he met members of the Korea Ski Association, who convinced him to take the job as the national team’s moguls coach. Dawson did it with an eye toward this moment — winning medals for South Korea in Pyeongchang in 2018.
Dawson now lives in Seoul, but his life is pretty similar to when he was an athlete, chasing the snow and attending training camps and competitions through much of the year. He’s only in Korea one or two weeks a month at the most, but he continues to enjoy celebrity status around the country.
“It’s kind of wild sometimes,” he said. “You’ll just be walking around, and people recognize me. My story has been around for a while. I’ll be riding the subway or something and people ask for a signature or come over and say ‘hi’ or want to take a picture. It’s pretty funny.”
He’s not totally fluent in Korea, but he speaks and understands it pretty well. He talks to his athletes in English, many of whom have lived or studied in the U.S. or Canada.
Support from home
His Vail family, including his brother and his mom, are coming from Colorado to support Toby and his athletes. He’ll also have some longtime Vail friends competing in these Olympics, too — he was in the same grade as fellow Vail native and Battle Mountain grad Sarah Schleper, who is competing for Mexico in alpine skiing. And South Korean hockey player Mike Testwuide grew up on the same cul-de-sac where Dawson lived in Vail.
Though he hasn’t been back to Vail for a few years, he still appreciates all the great support he’s received through the years from the community.
“I love Vail,” he said. “It’s a place I’ll always call home.”
Meanwhile, Dawson and his athletes are focused on reaching new heights as the nation of South Korea watches intently.
“It’s pretty exciting, and I think that a lot of people are going to come out and support the athletes — athletics are a big part of Korean,” he said. “I expect a lot of good fan base, definitely pushing these athletes to their limit. Hopefully they can ski well and have a good competition.”
Ed Stoner is the director of content for Swift Communications. He is covering the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, focusing on athletes from Swift’s communities in Colorado, Utah, California and Nevada.