The unique story of Olympic mogulist Toby Dawson
November 5, 2013
The U.S. Ski Team had long been a powerhouse in moguls, from the 1992 debut medals of Donna Weinbrecht to Jonny Moseley’s 1998 gold, plus silvers from Travis Mayer and Shannon Bahrke in Salt Lake City. Heading into Torino in 2006, all eyes were on Colorado’s Jeremy Bloom. Instead, it was a young man from South Korea via Vail who stepped into the spotlight.
Toby Dawson’s story captivated the entire planet for two weeks in February 2006. Under the lights in the village of Sauze d’Oulx, Dawson put down a spectacular run to win a bronze medal. But the medal run for the former World Champion was but a small part of his Olympic story.
Dawson grew up in Vail, and, like most young kids in the Vail Valley, was attracted to skiing from an early age. It was fate that brought him there. Born in South Korea as Bong-seok, at the age of three he became separated from his mother in a crowded market in the southern port city of Busan. His father, a truck driver, spent day after day searching local orphanages with no success. Later, the young boy was adopted and his new life in Vail began.
Fast-forwarding two decades, Dawson became a notable international athlete. And while his story was well known in his own inner circle, it took the Olympics to bring it forward to the world. Day after day in Torino, literally hundreds of Korean journalists clamored for one story who was Toby Dawson and where was his family in South Korea.
During the Games, family after family came forward to claim to be his parents. It reached the point where Dawson needed security and shelter just to maintain his preparation for his event. Then, with bronze medal in hand, he set about to find his real family.
A year later, in a tearful reunion in Seoul, Dawson met his real father, Kim Jae-su, and his family a reunion that might never have happened had it not been for that memorable evening on the moguls course in Sauze.
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Dawson retired in 2007 as a skier, exploring a new passion in golf. But his love of skiing and his homeland of South Korea led him back into the sport, as both an ambassador for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang and as the head of Korea’s burgeoning moguls program.
Today, Dawson lives the life of a national sports hero in Seoul. A year ago he was named to the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Just last month he was elected to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. He takes great pride in his young Korean moguls skiers and hopes to guide them to a medal like his own when the Olympics visit Korea in four years.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.