The small Caribbean nation of Dominica made its Winter Olympics debut in Sochi thanks to Gary di Silvestri and Angelica Morrone di Silvestri. The married couple qualified for cross-country skiing events and carried the country's flag during the opening ceremony. Gary, 47, and Angelica, 48, were among the oldest competitors in Sochi.
Although the story of Olympic tourists was initially viewed in a favorable light, they are now facing more skepticism about the actions that allowed them to reach the 2014 Games.
Mark Zeigler of U-T San Diego reports there was initially an open line of communication with the couple through Angelica when discussing the Games. When the questions shifted to how they actually became citizens to compete, the exchange ended:
But in recent days, when asked to elaborate on the fuzzy specifics of their humanitarian aid and the basis for their newfound citizenship, the emails stopped. Gary has not returned emails, either. Nor have three different government ministries in Dominica.
There are three requirements to compete in the Olympics:
- Full citizenship in the nation you are representing
- Internationally recognized national governing body for the sport you are competing in
- Meet Olympic qualifying standards
Here's how the di Silvestri's were able to meet all three.
Dominica is a nation that basically allows people to buy citizenship. The report states, for a couple like the di Silvestris, the base fee would be $175,000 plus any applicable administrative costs, and actually going to the country is optional.
Gary di Silvestri claimed in multiple interviews, he and his wife were awarded citizenship in the Dominica for their philanthropy. After establishing the first Olympic criteria, they formed the National Ski Association of Dominica to check off the second box.
As for their athletic accomplishments, Dave McKenna of Deadspin reported that much of the information used during the build-up to the Olympics wasn't accurate.
Gary di Silvestri claimed to be a state wrestling champion and national championship rower during his time with Georgetown. Further research with a New York wrestling historian and a crew coach at the university showed there was no information available to back up those claims.
Hoyas crew coach Whit Fosburgh told the site he wasn't in any boats that won medals for the school:
Gary wasn't in the boats that medaled those years, so it wouldn't be accurate to say he was on the medal stand, getting the medals around his neck. But working as hard as he did for as little success as he had, that made him very popular.
As for Angelica di Silvestri, her seemingly only connection to the Games before this cycle was back in the 1990s, according to Deadspin. A 1998 report from the Los Angeles Times links her to a bribery scandal about gifts in exchange for the awarding of winter events:
However, Howard Peterson, former president and CEO of the U.S. ski team, corroborated Hodler's charges. Peterson said two executives—Fiat President and CEO Vittorio C. Vellano and external relations manager Angelica DiSilvestri—offered him two cars before the vote to decide the host city for the championships.
In terms of actually qualifying for the Olympics, the standards are different for each country. It's far easier to earn a berth from a country like Dominica than the United States (Gary) or Italy (Angelica)—the respective countries where the di Silvestris were born.
Obviously, the couple faced no competition in a country that had never sent an athlete to the Winter Games. So, the only barrier they faced was getting under the cutoff for smaller countries, which is at a lower bar because the Olympics pushes to involve as many nations as possible.
U-T San Diego notes the qualifying number for the couple was anything under 300 (like golf, the lower the better). Skiers earn the points by competing in qualifying races, which the couple gained by entering lower level tournaments in New Zealand and across North America. Gary finished last in four of six races and Angelica finished in the bottom three in 13 of the 14 races she participated in.
Gary still met the standard, but Angelica was in danger of missing out until she went to a small competition for college students in Maine. The report states she only finished in 74th place out of 95 finishers in the freestyle race, but that was still enough to get her point total under the Olympic threshold.
That is enough to stir up a debate about the merits of the Olympic system. Finishing outside the top 70 against college competition doesn't exactly scream Winter Games.
Yet, the way the rules are currently set, both di Silvestris were heading to Sochi. Things only got weirder from there.
Angelica was the only scheduled athlete who didn't start the women's 10-kilometer classic after an apparent training injury. She reportedly skied off course during training and shattered her nose running into a fence, requiring three surgeries. Gary started his race but didn't even make it to the first checkpoint of the men's 15-kilometer classic due to an apparent illness.
She explained the issues in an e-mail provided by Jim Waggoner of the Staten Island Advance, including the following excerpt explaining their status:
I am at the hospital for a few more days looking like the phantom of the Opera. Tomorrow I will need to undergo another surgery—this time a very small one they told me—to remove a blood clot that dried up in my sinus and if left there would be extremely uncomfortable …
Gary is at the Olympic village, he was thoroughly checked by the doctors there and is under therapy for the next 10 days. He caught an acute bacterial gastroenteritis due to tainted water.
When you put all of the surrounding factors together, the prevailing question is whether the couple simply gamed the system to get their chance at an Olympic experience.
For its part, the Dominica Olympic Committee denied anything was handled improperly. The committee's president, Felix Wilson, told Christopher Clarey of The New York Times there was never an Olympic demand in return for money or anything of that nature:
Felix Wilson, president of Dominica's Olympic Committee, said any suggestion that the di Silvestris had used their purchasing power to get a spot on the Olympic team was unfounded.
"Gary never came to us and said, 'Look, I'm spending this; I'm doing this and doing that, so I want be on board to go to the Olympic Games,'" Wilson said. "That was not the approach. No way."
Moving forward, the story will probably fade away. There really isn't anything that can be said or done to change the fact the di Silvestris were allowed to make the Olympics, march in the opening ceremony and in Gary's case compete for a short time despite questions about the backstory.
The situation should, however, at least get the International Olympic Committee to reconsider its standards and procedures for Olympic tourists. Involving more countries is a positive, but leaving an avenue like this available for people to qualify is a mistake.