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With Medal, Dawson Completes One Quest

Times Staff Writer

At some point, Toby Dawson wants to find his parents, the ones who left him on the streets of South Korea so long ago.

People over there have been helping with the search, and several leads have come up, but the 27-year-old put his quest aside for a more pressing matter.

Skiing in the 2006 Turin Games.

“It’s very emotional,” he said. “I didn’t want to know until after these Olympics.”

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On Wednesday, Dawson took care of the task at hand, winning bronze in a men’s moguls competition full of sparkling performances and intriguing story lines.

Dale Begg-Smith, a Canadian who switched allegiances to Australia five years ago, continued his recent domination of the sport by winning the event.

And Jeremy Bloom -- whose otherworldly resume includes college football star and fashion model -- failed to make the podium in what may have been his last ski competition. He will now rush off to take a shot at the NFL.

But in the twilight here, no tale was more compelling than that of Dawson, the young man from Vail, Colo. As his adoptive mother, Deborah, said: “It’s like a dream come true.”

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Only no one knows exactly how or when the dream began.

By various accounts, Dawson was left on the street or perhaps outside a police station. Maybe he was born in Pusan, maybe in Seoul. “We know very little,” Deborah said.

The orphanage assigned him a birth date of Nov. 30, 1978.

That made him roughly 3 years old when Deborah and her husband, Mike, adopted and brought him to the United States after having seen only a black-and-white photograph.

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The Dawsons were ski instructors at Vail and Toby, they soon learned, had a natural passion for athletics.

“We had a trampoline in our backyard,” said Deborah, who attended Wednesday’s competition in a shining, gold parka. “I could see him from the kitchen. When he went beyond the window, it scared me but that’s the kind of kid he was.”

His parents never stopped him from skiing fast or taking steep runs. By 6, he was racing Alpine. By 12, he had switched to freestyle, on his way up the ladder of the U.S. program.

Skiing at the World Cup level, he occasionally fell victim to his own bravado, suffering a broken foot and leg in separate instances, and sustaining a lacerated kidney while goofing around on the mountain.

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There was also the matter of maturing. After failing to make the U.S. team for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games -- “I basically, completely choked” -- he rededicated himself to becoming more technically sound.

The effort paid off with a string of impressive results, including five World Cup victories and a world championship in the dual moguls last year.

Such success might have made him famous if not for Bloom, a freshman All-American receiver at Colorado who appeared in GQ magazine and modeled for Abercrombie & Fitch.

The media focused on Bloom’s glamour, as well as his two World Cup moguls titles, which was fine by Dawson.

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“It was easier for me to follow in the shadows and not get harassed too much,” he said.

Dawson is considered an easygoing guy, his smile fitting nicely on a face that shows its Korean heritage.

Coming into these Olympics, he was also considered a medal contender, but only after the likes of Begg-Smith, Bloom and Canada’s young sensation, Alexandre Bilodeau.

The competition began with qualifying on an overcast afternoon when the light was so flat that course workers had to sprinkle pine needles across the snow to give the steep hill of moguls, interspersed by two jumps, some visual definition.

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Begg-Smith powered down the slope with the top score and Bloom, though bobbling slightly in the middle section, stood a comfortable fourth.

Dawson admitted to feeling nerves.

“I had a lot of friends and family here,” he said. “I wanted to have a second run to make sure they got their money’s worth.”

He advanced to the evening final in sixth place -- within striking distance but just out of the limelight.

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Early on among the final runs, Finland’s Mikko Ronkainen dazzled, sticking two 720-degree spins to temporarily capture first place.

His performance seemed to inspire one spectacular run after another. Ronkainen held on with the top score, but the six best skiers were still to come.

Dawson went first, nailing his pair of 720s and pumping his fists as he crossed the finish line. The run put him in second.

Two skiers later, Bloom started well but botched the landing of his second aerial.

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“It was a small mistake,” he said after finishing sixth. “When people are skiing as well as they did in the top three, you can’t make a mistake.”

Begg-Smith skied last. He had been a machine this season, missing the podium in only two World Cup events.

On Wednesday, his technique in the moguls was characteristically precise, his aerials and landings flawless.

“On top, the course looked really nice,” said the pre-Olympic favorite, who is also typically reticent before reporters. “I knew I could go at it.”

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His run was good enough for gold, Ronkainen finished second and Dawson had hung on for a somewhat unexpected spot on the podium.

Afterward, the medalists’ news conference began with questions about an Internet ad company that Begg-Smith runs, one that he was apparently unwilling to say much about.

Reporters eventually settled on Dawson, his childhood and his uncertain heritage. He said: “I’ve struggled with that this year.”

His adoptive mother, who has encouraged his search, later explained: “He wanted to concentrate on the Olympics.”

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With his fame as a skier growing, several people have stepped forward claiming to be his parents. Dawson has yet to check them out.

But now that he has won an Olympic medal -- that one task out of the way -- perhaps the time has come. “I’m taking this process slowly,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

*

FREESTYLE SKIING, MEN’S MOGULS

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GOLD

* Dale Begg-Smith, Australia

SILVER

* Mikko Ronkainen, Finland

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BRONZE

* Toby Dawson, Vail, Colo.


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