SEOUL, South Korea – Far from the mountain where he skied to Olympic fame, Toby Dawson found his family. More than two decades after he was lost in a South Korean market and eventually adopted in the United States, Dawson was reunited with his father Wednesday.
They embraced, and Dawson said a Korean phrase he had learned for the meeting — "I've been waiting a long time, father."
Hugging his son at a hotel, Kim Jae-su teared up.
"I am glad to meet my son and see that he has grown up so wonderfully," Kim said. "I am thankful that he has come to look for me even after such a long time."
The reunion, which included a brother, was made possible by the bronze freestyle skiing medal Dawson won at the Turin Olympics last year. The victory earned him wide attention in the country of his birth.
Following the Olympics, dozens of would-be parents came forward to claim Dawson was their child, including Kim. But after years of dashed hopes, the 28-year-old Dawson put off an earlier planned trip to Korea and waited for confirmation from genetic tests before traveling here this week.
Dawson was 3 when he was lost in a market by his mother in the southern port city of Busan, Kim said. A truck driver at the time, Kim said it was too late when he got home to start searching for his missing child, whose original Korean name was Bong-seok. Over the next few days, he said he scoured local orphanages but was unable to find his son.
"I went to many orphanage houses only to hear that they didn't have anyone like him. They wouldn't let me come inside and look for him," the 53-year-old Kim said, adding he would search orphanages whenever he had time but eventually gave up.
"I'm not here to beat him up for what happened," Dawson said, adding that he had a fortunate life growing up with his adoptive parents, who were ski instructors in Vail, Colo.
At the start of a news conference, Dawson gave his biological father a Norwegian skiing sweater that he said signified his upbringing in the sport, which Kim immediately put on.
Dawson said he plans to use a new foundation he is starting in his name to help work to avoid cases like his in the future.
"Being caught in limbo between two different countries and not looking like your family is going to be tough," he said. "We need to try to keep our children and work a little bit harder to keep these circumstances from happening."
Dawson noted how he shared his healthy sideburns with his father, who during the news conference reached over several times to touch Dawson's face while they also held hands.
"My life until now has been confused," Dawson said. "I looked at my parents and I didn't look like them. Then I also felt if I went to Korea I didn't belong there.
"I felt like I was still lost, stuck between two different worlds," he said.
Dawson said he hoped to eventually stage a reunion with all his parents. He also mentioned again his desire to become a professional golfer within five years, after retiring in September from professional skiing.
Kim declined to talk publicly about Dawson's biological mother.
Also at the reunion was Dawson's younger brother, 24-year-old Kim Hyun-cheol, who was wearing an earring in his left ear similar to those Dawson has in both ears. All three men wrapped their arms around each other before heading to a family lunch.