PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - South Korean skiers fell well short of winning a medal in the men’s moguls at the Pyeongchang Olympics, but coach Toby Dawson sees a promising future.
The 38-year-old Korean American, who helped bring the games to South Korea, was proud of his skiers who finished 11th, 27th and 28th in the men’s moguls event on Monday.
“The point for me coming over here was not only to produce a medal or to get these athletes to a really World Cup status, but also start a grassroots program,” Dawson told Reuters Television. “That’s the legacy I would like to leave.”
The Winter Games also marked an important chapter in Dawson’s remarkable personal story.
He was born in South Korea’s Busan where, at the age of three, he was separated from his mother in a busy marketplace.
Unable to find his parents, the police sent him to an orphanage where he was adopted by two American ski instructors from Vail, Colorado. His first taste of skiing was whizzing down a mountain slope tucked inside his adoptive father’s backpack.
Soon he was given a pair of skis and was hooked.
He eventually took up freestyle skiing, finished fifth on his World Cup debut at 20 and won his first world championship medal four years later.
But it was his bronze in moguls at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics that made him a hero in South Korea.
Despite his American passport, Dawson was treated as one the country’s own. He also had the opportunity to find his biological parents, something his adoptive mother had hoped for.
“She was always secretly rooting for me to make it to the Olympics because she thought that would be the platform for me to be actually reunited with my biological parents. I guess that motherly intuition is correct,” he said.
South Korea’s ministry of tourism discovered likely genetic matches for his biological parents and when Dawson sent his blood samples, they found his biological father Kim Jae-soo.
What followed in February, 2007 was a very public reunion - a news conference attended by dozens of reporters and TV crews.
“It was hard. It was very surreal,” Dawson said of that initial meeting and the intense public scrutiny.
After spending time with Kim he could see they shared similar facial features.
“I was like wow, this is like looking into a mirror for when I am much, much older,” Dawson said.
He would meet his biological mother a few years later and maintains a good relationship with his parents and biological brother.
“I have just added to my family really, no hard feelings or anything like that. I don’t hold anything against them,” he said.
Dawson was part of the bid team for the 2018 Games and later agreed to coach the moguls team.
Three men and two women qualified for the finals at Pyeongchang, but did not make the podium.
“We probably won’t see a good surge for another two or three Olympic cycles and at that point we are hopefully going to be putting together a strong Korean contingency that will go on for a long time,” he said.
Dawson’s coaching contract is up in April. He has not made a decision about the future, but he is grateful for how his life has unfolded.
“Man I am so lucky,” he said.
“I have had so many cool opportunities. I have had so many cool situations in my life because of being adopted.”
Editing by Darren Schuettler and Ed Osmond