Skier returns to his roots

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Dec 1, 2011 - 19:21
  • Updated : Dec 1, 2011 - 21:07

Korean adoptee aims to take national ski team to the next level

A month has passed since he settled in Korea, and Toby Dawson, a U.S. Olympic bronze medalist skier, has just found out his real birth date.

“I had a fake birth date from the orphanage, which was Nov. 30 in 1978. But two days ago my dad in Busan told me I was born on May 4 in 1979,” Dawson said Wednesday.

Dawson, a Korea-born adoptee, came to Korea last month after being named freestyle ski coach for the national team. And after his official appointment last week, the 32-year-old sat in a caf in Gangnam, southern Seoul, to speak about his plans here.

“I’m just starting to learn so much now, and I’m very excited,” he said with a big smile on his face.

The idea of moving to Korea came in July in Durban, South Africa, where he helped PyeongChang’s 2018 bid. He was the last speaker in PyeongChang’s presentation and his adoptee-become-Olympic medalist story helped the city win the right to host the 2018 Winter Games.

The motivation, he explained, was that he wants to help Korea gain strength in every field of winter sports during the 2018 Games.

“I had an opportunity growing up in the United States, learning how to compete in skiing, and I thought what a great opportunity, bringing that knowledge to help Korea as a whole gain strength in other areas of sports,” Dawson said.

“I always jump in head first. You don’t touch the water to see if it is warm. You just jump straight in and that’s kind of what I did moving to Korea,” Dawson said with another big smile.

He said his life changed after his divorce two years ago, saying: “After that I was able to do all the work with PyeongChang and become a coach of the Korean national team. All these opportunities wouldn’t have come if I were still married in America.”

Also, part of the reason for being here is to learn Korean and learn about his native country, he said.

“I want to learn Korean so that I can have a real conversation with my family,” he added, noting that he now spends a couple of hours learning Korean from a personal tutor every day.

“Now I can ask simple questions like what, how, why like a little kid, but it’s better than nothing and my dad is very excited to hear that,” he chuckled.
Newly appointed Korean national team ski coach Toby Dawson (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Also being able to speak Korean, he believes, will be useful in guiding the Korean national team.

“I must learn Korean because when we are at the competition, it’s better for me to speak to my athletes in Korean. I have some secret in my techniques, and we don’t want to share that with the rest of the word,” he laughed.

Although Korea has become a powerhouse in skating, it has never been very successful in skiing. But Dawson claimed he can help Korea win its first Olympic medal in skiing in 2018.

“Sochi 2014 is so close. I know it’s still a couple of years away, but in terms of building techniques and the foundation there is not a good chance. But if we stick to a great plan I think there is a definitely good chance to win a medal in 2018,” he claimed.

Dawson has already met some national free style skiers. He believes the 19-year-old women’s freestyle skier Seo Jung-hwa has talent.

“She’s definitely got talent, but she is still not in top 10 in freestyle skiing, she’s got a lot of things to work on for her jumps and tricks to keep up with the top level,” he said.

At the moment enhancing physicality is, he explained, his main concern.

“I know the athletes want me to go right to start working with techniques. But first things first, I have to get their physical attributes prepared so they can learn some techniques.

“We’re going to have a lot of gym work this winter, they aren’t going to be happy with that I’m sure,” he said with a laugh.

Dawson once said that the way ski clothes hid his appearance was a great relief for him.

“Growing in up in the States, having parents who don’t look anything like you can be hard, but when you have skiing clothes on, the goggles, you can’t tell what the people’s skin color is, Yes, I liked the generalization of everyone looking the same.”

Dawson was sent to an orphanage and later adopted by a ski instructor couple from Colorado when he was three. He met his biological father Kim Jae-su in 2007 during a visit to Korea, and has kept in touch with Kim and his younger brother since then.

But he has yet to meet his biological mother. She lost her son in a crowded local market in Busan and left the home in 1981.

He takes some time before saying: “I know where she is now, but I don’t want to disrupt her life. I’m just waiting for the right time, I want to be able speak Korean better, I don’t want to have a translator when I meet her.”

After nearly an hour of conversation over coffee, he said it was time for his Korean lesson.

“You know what I’d really like to do? I don’t know how long it will take to learn Korean. After I feel comfortable I want to be in a Korean comedy show. It looks so funny,” he chuckled.

By Oh Kyu-wook (