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.

source: Getty Images
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.

Olympic champion pairs team sets return

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping