Toby Dawson

Catching up with Toby Dawson

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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.

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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.

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Toby Dawson came out of the shadows of Jeremy Bloom and Travis Mayer to win bronze in 2006. (Getty Images)

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.

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Blake Leeper, Olympic hopeful double amputee, has prosthetics ruled ineligible

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Blake Leeper, a double amputee who finished fifth in the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships 400m, had his prosthetic legs ruled ineligible for major international able-bodied competition such as the Olympics.

World Athletics made the ruling as part of a months-long case that will go on. Leeper confirmed Thursday morning a Washington Post report that he is appealing.

A World Athletics review group “concluded that Mr. Leeper had not established that his prostheses do not provide him with an overall competitive advantage,” according to a World Athletics statement. “Under the current rule [introduced in 2015], the burden of proof lies with the athlete to show that prostheses do not provide them with an overall competitive advantage.”

Leeper, a 2012 Paralympic medalist, sprints fast enough to be a contender for the U.S. Olympic team, should he be deemed eligible. A fifth-place finisher in the 400m at nationals usually makes an Olympic or world team for the 4x400m relay.

But when Leeper recorded that finish in Des Moines last summer, he was running under conditional allowance while his World Athletics case was ongoing. He was not ultimately selected to race at worlds last fall.

World Athletics said then that his nationals results would not be ratified because he had not proven that his legs did not provide “an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such aid.”

Leeper’s case is reminiscent of South African Oscar Pistorius.

Pistorius won a legal battle to race on his prosthetics at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics in the 400m with a personal best of 45.07. He was eliminated in the semifinals at both meets.

Leeper lowered his personal best to 44.38 seconds at nationals, a time that would have easily made the 2016 Olympic team.

“They keep changing the rules,” Leeper, who has been coached by, among others, Super Bowl champion wide receiver Willie Gault, said last summer. “For somebody to try to dictate and tell me how tall I should be or whatever I should be running on I think is just really unfair.”

In 2018, the International Paralympic Committee said Leeper was running on invalid blades for its record purposes because he had yet to be classified under a new maximum allowable standing height (MASH) formula.

Michael Norman, the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year, said he had no issue racing with Leeper. But others in the past, when Pistorius became the first double amputee to race at worlds and the Olympics, said they wouldn’t have been so sure had Pistorius been running the kind of times that Leeper posted in recent years.

“Walk a mile in my legs,” Leeper said of those who believe he has a competitive advantage. “Understand the things that I go through as a double-leg amputee. There’s some days my legs are swollen, they’re sore, they’re bleeding, they’re bruised. I can’t even have the strength to put ’em on to walk to the bathroom.

“Anybody that faces a disability, to actually look them in the face and say they have an advantage is just crazy to me. I guarantee if that’s the case, you’ll see a lot more people amputating their legs and coming and trying to qualify for the U.S. trials.”

Leeper was born without lower legs and has used prosthetics since he was a toddler. He earned 200m bronze and 400m silver (behind Pistorius) in his class at the 2012 London Paralympics, then served a cocaine ban.

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Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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