Toby Dawson and the promise of hope

DURBAN, South Africa -- Pyeongchang's winning sales pitch here Wednesday for the 2018 Winter Olympics  included the likes of South Korean president Myung Bak Lee,  2010 Vancouver figure skating gold medalist Yuna Kim and a 32-year-old guy whose story speaks to the best of what the Olympic movement can be. "My name is Toby Dawson,"  the 32-year-old guy told the members of the International Olympic Committee.

"My name is also Kim Bong Seok," he went on to say.

"I am a freestyle skier and I am an Olympian.

"I am a Korean by birth. Yet I am also an American."

In a presentation that bridged cultures and spoke to the core of the Olympic values, Dawson all but stole the show.

The entire Pyeongchang presentation was obviously impressive; after falling short in two prior bids for 2010 and 2014, they finally broke through for 2018, winning in the first round over Munich and Annecy, France. The vote totals: 63 for Pyeongchang, 25 for Munich, seven for Annecy.

Dawson's appearance had been a closely held secret. When he took to the lectern, he spoke with clarity and confidence about the essence of the thing that sustains not just sport but, indeed, life.

Hope is real. Toby Dawson is living proof.

"It was nerve-wracking, absolutely nerve-wracking," he said just moments after walking off the stage. "But I thought I had a great story to tell."

Not even 3, little Kim Bog Seok had been abandoned on the doorstep of a police station in Pusan, in the far south of Korea. He spent six months in an orphanage; there he was given he name Soo Chul.

In time, he was adopted by a pair of American ski instructors, Mike and Deborah Dawson, who brought him to a new life in Vail, Colo.

Little Toby was on skis early. He soon became not just a great moguls skier but known as a showman, too. As time went on, he won or earned medals at virtually every level -- the U.S. championships, World Cups, world championships.

All that remained was the Olympics. But he didn't make the 2002 team. In 2004 he broke his leg. In 2005 he sprained knee ligaments. But in 2006 he regrouped and in Torino he seized the moment, winning bronze.

Winning that medal unlocked the past in a way Toby Dawson never imagined.

At a news conference in 2007 in Seoul, where Toby had gone to help promote Pyeongchang's 2014 bid for the Winter Games, in walked Toby's biological father, Jae Soo Kim.

"Flash bulbs were going off everywhere," he said, recalling the event. "Meeting this man for the first time -- I didn't even get the chance to meet him or say hi. I was sitting in a press conference room and he walked in."

There was no question that the man who was said to be his father was, indeed, his father. "The moment he walked in, I said, 'Holy cow, this is definitely my father, there's no two ways about it. We look so similar. For both of us to have a lot of facial hair and long sideburns -- it was obvious I was related."

There was not, however, a lot to say: "I said, 'Hello, dad.' "

Things have gotten better since, Toby said. He, his father and his biological brother, Hyun Chul Kim, have meet three times now. The father has remarried; the circumstances regarding his biological mother remain unclear.

"The last four or five years, after I met my father for the first time, the Korean people have really embraced me. I was really ashamed of being Korean growing up. It was not until my mid-20s that I became comfortable with myself personally that I was willing to accept that I was actually Korean.

"To be able to go through that has made me want to learn more about Korean culture, about the land where I was born, to be a Korean-American. That's why I wanted to be out here, to help out my people, the place where I was born."

It's why Toby Dawson wrapped up his speech Wednesday to the IOC by asking a rhetorical question:

Were were the members listening to Toby Dawson, the American Olympian, or to Kim Bong Seok, "the little Korean boy with the ability to be an Olympian but with limited opportunities to do so?"

"Well," he answered, "to be honest, you are listening to both.

"I came here today," he went on to say, "to achieve two things.

"First, I want to honor my home country and its people -- my people. i want to return, in some small measure, the good fortune that I've receive in my life from sport.

"Second, I want to speak for future generations in Korea and beyond. I ask you to give them the same chance that I received when I moved to America in 1981 -- the chance to hope, the chance to participate, the chance to excel and the chance to succeed."

And he said a moment later, "I believe that there is no greater honor than representing one's country at the Olympic Games. It is my dream that every child, everywhere in the world, can hope for that possibility."