2006 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist Toby Dawson is in a unique position for the next four years.
The retired moguls skier, lost at a South Korean market at age 3 and adopted by a Colorado family, now coaches South Korean skiers. He aided Pyeongchang’s effort to win the 2018 Olympic bidding and continues to help with preparations for the nation’s first Winter Olympics.
OlympicTalk recently caught up with Dawson to look back on his skiing career and discuss life in South Korea, before he gets inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame later this week.
OlympicTalk: What was your favorite career race?
Dawson: That’s hard to narrow down. Of course the (Torino 2006) Olympic Games were very special to me in Italy, one of my defining competitions and also my final career competition. There was always Mont Tremblant, Canada. I competed in my first World Cup there (1999), got a fifth place. I got my first World Cup podium there (2000), and I got my first World Cup victory there (2005).
OlympicTalk: Who were your favorite competitors?
Dawson: Always my U.S. teammates. I really enjoyed hanging out with (fellow 2006 Olympians) Jeremy Bloom, Travis Cabral and Travis Mayer. Some of the people I really liked to hang around with were (2002 Olympic champion) Janne Lahtela and Sami Mustonen from Finland. We would coach at the same summer camps. We got quite close through coaching together. We would play Tony Hawk video games.
OlympicTalk: Where do you keep your Olympic medal?
Dawson: I got this nice medal display in Torino, but it was always kind of big and cumbersome. Because I had to take the medal around to events, meets and greets, I ended up keeping it in a Cashmere sock to protect it and fit it in my backpack.
OlympicTalk: Did you ever think about coming out of retirement after Torino?
Dawson: I think as an elite athlete, you always look back and always like to have those competitive juices going. It’s always in the back of your mind. Even today, I question putting on skis and getting back in there.
OlympicTalk: What do you miss the most about competing?
Dawson: I miss the atmosphere. I like to be in the middle of it, be in a competition, put all my hard work and effort on the line and realize it all at the same moment on the course.
OlympicTalk: What do you miss the least?
Dawson: I would say the cold weather and the travel, although I’m right in the middle of all that again.
OlympicTalk: What have you been doing since you retired?
Dawson: I went back to school to get a finance degree at Fort Lewis College in Colorado (he is still working on the degree). I was also trying to pursue a career in professional golf, so I spent a lot of time on the golf course and the driving range. Then the 2018 Winter Olympic bid came up, and I was invited to be a final presenter for Koreans at the International Olympic Committee session (in Durban, South Africa, in 2011). We won the bid (over Munich and Annecy, France).
Afterward, we had a big celebration in Korea. A lot of opportunities came forward, including with the Korean Olympic Committee and an organizational role with the Pyeongchang committee. And I was asked to become a South Korean national team ski coach. Originally, I wanted to help oversee all of the ski programs, mainly freestyle/halfpipe/moguls/aerials/slopestyle. However, the budget didn’t quite match what I wanted in terms of hiring international coaches and things of that nature.
So they brought me in as a full-time moguls coach (in November 2011). We’ve had a lot of early success. The athletes were definitely happy to have a coach who was foreign and had the pedigree coming in. I’m able to pass down a lot of the information I’ve learned. They have a quick understanding.
OlympicTalk: What do you miss the most about the U.S.?
Dawson: All of it. Growing up in the States, everything is a lot more convenient. My Korean isn’t fluent yet. I probably don’t study the language as much as I could or should. I live right in the middle of Seoul, so it’s not too much of a transition. Everyone speaks English. There’s Starbucks. Ease of travel, by far, is the single biggest difference I could think of. In Vail, (Colo.), you can get in the car and be out fishing 30 minutes later. In Korea, you can sit in your car for hours in traffic and get nowhere.
OlympicTalk: What’s the interest in South Korea about 2018 right now?
Dawson: It’s been extremely high since they won the bid, and I think after the Sochi Olympics there’s been another peak. Korean snow sports have never been that successful in the past, but with Choi Jae-Woo, one of my athletes finishing in 12th place in moguls at the Sochi Olympics, it really shows the possibilities that chasing medals and things like that in four years could be a reality. Korea’s been very dominant in short track and speed skating. I think they are very excited to branch out in other sports.
OlympicTalk: What’s your role with the 2018 Olympics like now?
Dawson: I’m one of the honorary ambassadors. I’ve met with and know a lot of different people that help run the 2018 Olympics. I answer technical questions in terms of skiing and stuff like that. I work more on the on-hill stuff. I’ve kept involved with the Korean Olympic Committee and the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee to make sure Korea does the best job, and also working and making sure people coming to these Games are excited about it. I believe the Korean culture is friendly and welcoming, and this should be a wonderful Games to be at.
OlympicTalk: What were your takeaways from Sochi in terms of 2018 preparation?
Dawson: Pyeongchang has been on this bid process for such a long time that they’ve already set up a lot of infrastructure and things like that to prove to the IOC that they are ready to host these Games. Their mission is to have the best Winter Olympic Games ever to date, so they seem to be very organized and ahead of schedule in comparison to some of these other countries that are hosting the Olympics. They’re right on schedule with all their construction work. seem to have hired on a lot of new faces and people and will be ready well before the Games instead of putting all the pieces together right before the Games start.
OlympicTalk: What’s the reaction been like in South Korea to Yuna Kim‘s silver?
Dawson: It was obviously a heartbreak for the Koreans. It was a pretty big deal. They very much feel that she should have won the gold medal (over Russian Adelina Sotnikova). There’s always going to be some sort of home-field advantage. That’s the one thing they have taken away from that. We will have the Olympic Games in Korea, and we will take advantage of that.
She’s a delightful young person -- smart, witty. She wants to be an athlete representative for the IOC (now that she’s retired). She wants to be very involved in the Olympic Games. She doesn’t want that Sochi experience to ruin it.
OlympicTalk: What about Korean-born short track speed skater Viktor Ahn‘s success for Russia?
Dawson: The biggest takeaway, since Viktor Ahn is Korean by blood, they are very happy that he was able to be so successful at the Olympic Games, but at the same time I think there is a sense of embarrassment to not have him on the Korean skating team and have all that success come to Korea.
OlympicTalk: You’re getting inducted into the USSA Hall of Fame, what does that mean?
Dawson: It’s kind of nice and humbling to be noticed after so many years of competition. I removed myself from being a competitor and am now coaching. To have that recognition come back is always a warm feeling.
OlympicTalk: What’s next for you?
Dawson: I’ve got a million things going on right now. And my wife, she is like six months pregnant. So we might have another moguls skier coming up. Or taekwondo. She was a two-time world champion in taekwondo. We expect to have a very athletic child.
OlympicTalk: Boy/girl, name?
Dawson: It’s a boy. We do not (have a name yet). In Korea, apparently you’re supposed to go to the fortune-teller, and the fortune-teller picks out the name. I don’t know how that works. It has something to do with astrology, date, time, stars. I think that’s the way 90 percent of names are done in Korea. That will probably be the middle name. We’ll end up having an American first name.