Toby Dawson

From the heart, Doha wins for 2019


MONACO — Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim is just 23, a bronze medalist in the men's high jump at the London 2012 Olympics, silver medalist in the event at the 2013 world championships, gold medalist at the 2014 world indoor championships. Speaking here Tuesday with real passion and soul to the 27 members of the ruling council of international track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, Barshim said, on behalf of Doha’s bid for the 2019 world championships, “Are you willing to expand the sport that we love?”

Doha had it all Tuesday: facilities, resource, ambition, the advantage of coming back humbled after losing to London for 2017. With Eugene, Oregon, pressing hard, plainly presenting for one and all the question that dared to be asked — was the IAAF willing to entertain the notion of going, finally, to the United States — Doha played the trump card.

Mutaz Essa Barshim.

The jubilant Qatari team as "Doha" is announced for 2019 // photo courtesy IAAD

The IAAF awarded its 2019 championships to Doha in a close vote, the Qatari capital winning over Eugene in a second round of voting, 15-12.

In a first round, Doha had gotten 12 votes, Eugene nine. The third city in the mix, Barcelona, got six votes and was eliminated.

It is entirely typical in bid contests, whether for the Olympic Games or otherwise, for bid cities to put celebrity athletes front and center to troll for votes. Usually, these athletes read from cue cards or look uncomfortable and the whole thing seems forced and weird.

When it works, however, it really works.

Three years ago, for instance, the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games bid committee relied on Toby Dawson, the U.S. skier who had been born in Korea, then adopted by an American family. His heartwarming story tugged at emotions as Pyeongchang rolled to a landslide victory.

On Tuesday, the U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix was — as always — elegant in advancing Eugene’s case. Giving of her time on her (29th) birthday, she said, “Putting your event in Eugene will launch a revolution of throwing, running and jumping in our country."

U.S. sprint star Allyson Felix urging a vote for Eugene // photo courtesy IAAF

The Americans had made it abundantly clear that they saw the 2019 vote as a defining moment for the IAAF. If not now for track and field in the United States, when?

“Destiny is calling us,” bid leader Vin Lananna said. “America is waiting. Eugene is ready. Let’s tell our story together.”

From the American view, there was so much positive about this Eugene candidacy:

A re-done Hayward Field. The potential of packed stands, morning and night, a marked contrast to the worlds in 2013 (Moscow) and 2011 (Daegu, South Korea), which suffered from empty stadiums.

As the Americans told the council in the last question to be asked, a 2019 Eugene championships would be broadcast live on NBC. As Felix and others made abundantly plain, the worlds would re-energize the sport in the United States — the engine for much more to come in bigger cities.

What was left unsaid but nonetheless clearly understood, meantime, were other factors. Consider:

— Doha would put on the 2019 worlds from Sept. 28-Oct. 6. For contrast, the 2015 worlds will be Aug. 22 in Beijing, the 2017 edition Aug. 5-13 in London.

Doha 2019 would be just 10 months before the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. How would that affect athlete training?

That time frame, moreover, lines up in the middle of other peak broadcast seasons, including the NFL.

— This was the rare circumstance in which the U.S. could actually be seen as the developing market.

In his remarks to the council, Lananna said, “Really, what is the takeaway? The United States promises to you today to deliver an unbelievable world championships.”

The challenge for Eugene: Doha promised the same thing, albeit in so many words.

While the U.S. is still climbing back into the international bid game, Doha — and Qatar — are by now seasoned veterans.

Over the next year, Qatar will play host to 43 international sports events. It will stage world championships in swimming and team handball, among others. In 2018, it will put on the world gymnastics championships. Of course, in 2022 it gets the soccer World Cup.

Perhaps of most relevance to the IAAF, Doha bid three years ago for the 2017 worlds. London won, 16-10, amid a pledge from Sebastian Coe, the leader of the London 2012 Games, to keep track and field at Olympic Stadium after those Games.

“When you lose, you should be humble,” Sheik Saoud bin Abdulrahman al Thani, the Doha 2019 bid leader and general secretary of the Qatar Olympic Committee, said. “Not every game will you win.”

For 2019, the Qataris promised a 100-meter video board atop the stadium. Five-star accommodations. A night marathon along the Corniche.

The late September start, they said, means that futuristic air conditioning systems in the stadium won’t be needed — but they have it and, they declared, can get temperatures down in two hours.

A Be In TV executive, Yousef Al Obaidly, promised “the most comprehensive promotional package ever.”

There’s a new mega-airport in Doha. Qatar Airways rocks.

And on and on.

“Today,” Dahlan al Hamad, president of the Qatar Athletics Federation and an IAAF vice president told the council, “we have the choice to make a deep impact, in a place where our sport can really grow, with a partner that can help us to make it happen.”

To critics of Doha, Sheikh Saoud had this to say in an interview: “We tell them to come and witness for yourself. Come and see. A lot of people don’t have the financial power [that Qatar does]. Not a lot of people choose to use sport … for everything. We believe in sport.”

Last week, at a major Olympic meeting in Bangkok, the feeling was Eugene was looking at five -- maybe eight -- votes maximum, in the first round. It wasn’t clear whether the Oregon city would even make it through to the second round.

The Eugene presentation Tuesday was, in every way, first rate. That clearly helped.

But so, too, Doha.

And only one of the two had Mutaz Essa Barshim.


“We need you to be the spark,” he told the IAAF council.

“We need everybody’s help. We need to make an impact. We need to take athletics to a new place. I’m not the only one sharing this dream.”

He added for emphasis a moment later, “We need everybody to come together for the sport that we love.”

None of this was rehearsed. Barshim spoke without notes. He did not pause or need for an instant to collect himself. “No script,” he said.

“Almost I had tears,” Sheikh Saoud, who has seen it all, said later. “The way he spoke — he was not just a star athlete. He was a star of expression.

“Most council members,” the sheik reminded, “were athletes. They were in his shoes. They know how it is.”

“From the heart,” Barshim would say later.

It’s a lesson worth remembering. For all the resource, it always comes down to this: sport — even, perhaps especially, the bidding for the events at which high-level sport is contested — is about emotion, about human connection.

On this day in Monaco, Doha had it. See you in 2019 in Qatar.

Toby Dawson's new Korean adventure

Give this to Toby Dawson: "I love," he said, "jumping into things head first." The 2006 Torino Winter Games bronze medalist in moguls skiing for the United States, adopted long ago as a toddler by a pair of American ski instructors after being abandoned on the doorstep of a police station in Pusan, in the far south of South Korea -- he's now the Korean national freestyle ski coach.

He's getting to know his real father, and step-mother, better. And his brother.

He knows now where his mother is, too. And someday, when he speaks the language much better, he will meet her.

"This is one of the biggest adventures of my life," he said on his mobile phone, the wind whistling on the mountain many time zones away over there in Korea.

The genesis of this idea came up last summer, when Toby played a key role in Pyeongchang's winning bid for the 2018 Winter Games.

At the International Olympic Committee session in Durban, South Africa, where Pyeongchang won a landslide victory, Toby told the IOC members his remarkable story -- that he was both Korean by birth and given the name Kim Bong Seok and, of course, that he was an American named Toby Dawson who was an Olympic medalist.

At 3, little Bong Seok had been abandoned on the doorstep of a police station in Pusan. He spent six months in an orphanage, where he was given yet another name -- Soo Chul. Ultimately, he was adopted by American ski instructors Mike and Deborah Dawson, who brought him to a new life in Vail, Colo.

Toby's presentation in Durban was powerful stuff -- and not just for the IOC members.

Afterward, the Korean Ski Assn. reached out to Toby and asked if he would be interested in trying to take its freestyle team to the next level.

The Koreans, excellent in ice sports, have lagged -- significantly, as all involved acknowledge -- on snow. "It sparked my interest," Toby said. "I never saw myself as a coach but it just kind of fell in my lap. And it just seemed like such a right fit."

Toby is a celebrity of sorts in Korea so the fit went both ways. Already, he has become a semi-regular presence there on TV -- which helps the association attract sponsors.

Toby's deal calls for him to be there through the Sochi 2014 Games. The reality is he's likely to be there all the way through 2018.

Toby and his biological father, Jae Soo Kim, who had first reunited in 2007, know each other now. Toby has gone even a step further perhaps with his biological brother, Hyun Chul Kim.

He calls Hyun Chul "dong-saeng," which means "little brother" in Korean. Hyun Chul calls Toby "hyeong," or "older brother." And they're using the terms affectionately.

"I have probably picked up 300 words already. I would guess in the next [few] months I'll be pretty fluent."

At which point he might be ready to meet his mother. "She is in Pusan," he said. "She is in the area where I was lost."

He said, "She contacted my father. I actually know where she is. I am waiting for the right time now … she is hesitant. She is re-married.

"I am not sure she has disclosed being married previously, having lost a child, all that stuff. She wants to keep it under wraps. I want to learn the language," he said, "and meet her one-on-one."

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."