Moguls' bronze-winner a far better story than Bloom
Posted: Wednesday February 15, 2006 5:22PM; Updated: Wednesday February 15, 2006 5:22PM
Moguls bronze-medal winner Toby Dawson has spent his entire career in Jeremy Bloom's shadow -- but he's having more success.
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TURIN, Italy -- I saw my first moguls competition on Wednesday and my first reaction was: How could there not be more carnage in this sport?
In the midst of threading their way through a bunch of buried Volkswagen Bugs on a pitch that is more cliff than hill, these skiers must also thrust themselves off a couple of "air bumps" en route to the bottom, launching pads which they use to flip and spin and otherwise contort themselves in ways that would induce incontinence in, well, me.
While there were no yard sales, there were plenty of botched landings, the most significant of them by Jeremy Bloom, who fared about as well against this field as he did against the NCAA.
When it was over, Bloom stood at the foot of the hill metamorphosing before our very eyes, from freestyle skier to football player. In the midst of answering questions about how he will prepare for the NFL Combine in 11 days, Bloom pulled off his competitor's bib and slipped on an Under Armour T-shirt.
That's not surprising, considering the endorsement machine he has become before so much as playing a down in the NFL. Nor was it particularly surprising that Bloom did not medal. With just a single podium finish, last May at Mt. Gabriel, Quebec, the ex-Colorado Buffalos punt returner has been nowhere near as sharp in the run-up to these Games as he was in the 2004-05 season, in which he won a jaw-dropping six straight World Cup events and the overall championship.
What surprised me was Bloom's utter lack of misgivings or regrets. While some other guys who finished off the podium walked by brushing away tears, the 23-year-old Coloradan could not keep a smile off his face.
"It was a great day," he said. "I can't allow one mistake to ruin that." That faux pas, an ungainly landing following his second "air" on his final run, pushed him down to sixth place, which is, quite frankly, where he belonged.
Bloom hasn't looked as razor-sharp this week in training or in Wednesday's qualifiers or finals as did the guys who finished ahead of him. He was not in the same class with gold medalist Dale Begg-Smith, who blew off his native land to compete for Australia, and then faced what amounted to a cross-examination from Canadian journalists in the post-event press conference. (Sample question: "Do you feel that some part of this medal should be shared with Canadians?")
Just .15 points behind Begg-Smith was Finland's Mikko Ronkainen, whose pair of airs rocked: a double-helicopter-with-iron cross (720-degree rotation with ski tips crossed), and a 720 off-axis (tilted rotation to one side of the vertical axis, achieved by leaning sideways during takeoff) -- also with a cross. Moguls purists complain that there's too much emphasis on the jumps, that their technique on and line through the moguls should take precedence. As Begg-Smith says, "We already have aerials."
I don't know that I agree. Keep the jumps. Add a third jump. And give us more of bronze medalist Toby Dawson, the 27-year-old with the Elvis sideburns and the made-for-TV back story. Dawson is another stud moguls skier from Colorado, but not the one you're used to hearing about. His World Cup victory in Deer Valley, Utah, earlier this season gave him one more win than Bloom. Dawson was the 15th of 20 finalists to ski, to hear the insufferable -- and I mean unbearable -- public address announcer cry out, as he did before every single run of the day, "Are you ready, Sauze d'Oulx?" drawing out the "Ooooo" sound for up to seven seconds. Where are the Carabinieri when you need them?
Anyway, Dawson, who has essentially spent his career in Bloom's shadow but has been skiing better than him this season, turned in a beautiful, clutch run. What U.S. moguls coach Jeff Wintersteen dwelled on after Dawson's performance was not so much his superb airs and graceful touchdowns, but rather the line he took.
"The line he was skiing, no one else was skiing," said the coach. By "line," he meant the path Dawson chose through the moguls. Dawson's line "wasn't as direct as the other lines," but somehow it "suited Toby's style."
Why didn't anyone else ski that line? "They don't have the guts Toby Dawson does."
In every sense, then, Dawson has taken the line less traveled. To quote from his official Olympics biography: "Born in Korea, he was adopted at age three by an American family. He had been abandoned on the doorstep of a police station in the city of Pusan."
If you're going to grow up to win an Olympic medal in moguls, it helps to be adopted, as Dawson was, by Vail ski instructors. As a boy, Toby was so painfully shy that it was difficult for him to make eye contact with others, recalled his mother, Deborah. "He struggled socially, so ski racing was a good way for him to gain confidence."
Dawson has won six World Cup events, and gained considerable confidence and maturity, since the '02 Winter Games, at which, he says, "I basically completely choked." It would have been enlightening to find out more about Wednesday's surprise hero, but he was hustled away from the press conference by U.S. ski team officials.
Thus did we find ourselves scrumming around Dawson's mother, Deborah, who stood in a ring of reporters, the TV lights reflecting off her gold jacket. She recalled that, before meeting her son, she received a small, black and white picture of the boy. "I fell in love with that picture," she said. Deborah first met Toby at the Denver airport on March 31, 1982. Could she describe that feeling?