Did this couple and their nation scam Sochi Olympics?
FEB 25, 2014 2:03a ET
How do you make it to the Winter Olympics? The most tried-and-true answer is as old as the question itself:
Train long and hard and dedicate your life to your sport.
But this is 2014. Apparently, having enough cash and persuasion skills can get you there — and as a nation's flag-bearer, no less.
Welcome to the life of an "Olympic tourist" — a term given to a person who, usually unable to qualify for the Olympics in their native land, obtains citizenship in another nation in hopes of qualifying for the Olympics as a member of that nation's team.
It is a life reportedly lived by married couple Gary di Silvestri and Angelica Morrone di Silvestri. The di Silvestris arrived in Sochi as cross-country skiers competing from the small Caribbean nation of Dominica. Here is Angelica's official Olympics bio.
They even marched in the Opening Ceremony and carried the flag of Dominica.
But according to reports, the di Silvestris had become Dominica citizens by giving generously to humanitarian efforts in the country — though they have been vague about just what those efforts were when questioned by reporters.
They also weren't too exact about just when they were actually in Dominica, though that isn't a prerequisite for citizenship. Gary di Silvestri did grow up on an island — Staten Island, N.Y. Angelica Morrone is a native of Italy. He was an investment fund manager, and she was an auto company executive. They mostly live in a fabulous chateau in Montana.
She is 48, he's 47. That's way up there for Olympic athletes, especially for such a strenuous sport as cross country skiing, something they started doing in their 30s. But he formed a national ski federation, and the two of them set out to accumulate enough finishes (mostly last or nearly last) in lower-level competitions in order to somehow qualify for the Olympics.
But at least they didn't get in the way of the real competitors at the games. Morrone didn't compete in her event, saying she had been hurt while training the day after the Opening Ceremony. He made it just a few hundred meters into his race before collapsing in the snow, apparently the victim of some bad Sochi water he had drunk.
But there was a skeptical piece about the couple's Olympic venture, headlined "Did Dominica couple game the Games?", published all the way back in San Diego.
Meanwhile, Deadspin started out by detailing accusations of alleged tax chicanery involving the couple and the sale of a private island estate in another part of the Caribbean, the Turks and Caicos Islands. They were never indicted, and a lawsuit against them in the U.S. was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, Deadspin reported.
Then Deadspin reporter Dave McKenna dug deeper, writing that some claims Gary di Silvestri has made about his athletic past don't check out. He was a high school wrestler, but he apparently claimed to have won nonexistent state championships. In addition, di Silvestri said he was part of a national championship crew team in college at Georgetown. Though di Silvestri did row at Georgetown, the team's coach at that time told Deadspin that di Silvestri wasn't good enough to be part of the school's top crew squad.
"Gary wasn't in the boats that medaled those years," Whit Fosburgh told Deadspin, "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."
Finally, there is Angelica Morrone di Silvestri's connection to winter sports long before she became a cross country skier for Dominica. The Los Angeles Times identifies her as one of the Fiat executives who offered a bribe of cars to a member of the U.S. ski federation in exchange for arranging for the 1997 skiing world championships to be awarded to Sestriere, Italy.
For its part, the Dominica’s Olympic Committee defended the di Silvestris' citizenship and participation in the Olympics.
"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,'" DOC president Felix Wilson told The New York Times. “That was not the approach. No way.”
But Thomas Dorsett, secretary general of the DOC, told The Times, "The tourism department, I think we will benefit from this. I think we are so privileged to have somebody like Gary represent our country, and without looking for fine points and cutting teeth, I think to us it’s just a godsend. Because you have to realize sometimes we are mistaken for the Dominican Republic. If we can make our own mark, it’s better, so we highly appreciate what Gary has done for us."
Another Caribbean nation, Barbados, also receiving applications from Olympic tourists. Speaking about the di Silvestris to The Times, Barbados Olympic association president Steve Stoute said:
"I wish them well, but it wouldn’t happen with my Olympic committee."
All in all, this wouldn't exactly rank as one of the feel-good stories out of Sochi.