Courtesy Gary di Silvestri

Staten Island man, 46, and wife will ski for Dominica at Sochi Olympics

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UPDATE (Feb. 26): Some of Gary di Silvestri’s background information has been disputed. Di Silvestri has not responded to a text message and voicemail request for a response to claims that information he provided was untrue.

The first-ever Winter Olympians for the Caribbean island of Dominica will be Gary di Silvestri, a 46-year-old originally from Staten Island, N.Y., and his wife, Angelica Morrone di Silvestri, 48, born and raised in Italy.

It’s not the first time an athlete with U.S. roots has competed for another nation. Nor is it the first time a husband and wife have gone to the Olympics together. And there have been older Olympians, though not too many.

But add them all up?

“It will be historic,” Dominica Olympic Committee secretary general Thomas Dorsett said. “Our tourism department will make a field day of that.”

Di Silvestri was a two-time state wrestling champion at Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island. His wrestling career ended on a drive home with his father after a meet his senior year.

A drunk driver collided with them, head on. Di Silvestri wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

“I went through the windshield,” he said.

He spent two days in a coma and two weeks in a hospital but escaped without permanent injury.

Di Silvestri rowed for a national championship team at Georgetown, where he was a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. He didn’t get the scholarship, but he did spend a year in Italy, where he met a Rome University student who would become his wife in 1990.

Upon graduating, he became a Wall Street financial analyst, spent about five years in New York and four years in London before he and his wife returned to the U.S. to run his own company, Deutsche Suisse. In their free time, they skied.

“We had started cross-country skiing maybe 15 years ago, at a very leisurely level, and then as we became more proficient, we loved it,” Morrone di Silvestri said. “We started training and looking for opportunities to race and improve our technique. It’s been a passion for many years now.”

It’s been truly competitive for about seven years.

“No kids, no pets,” Di Silvestri said. “This would not be possible with kids.”

They now live and train in Canmore, Canada, home of the Nordic skiing events at the 1988 Olympics.

They first visited Dominica on holiday six or seven years ago. They have done philanthropic work, mostly in other Caribbean countries, funding children’s hospitals in needy areas. They had a friend at the nation’s Ross University School of Medicine, and it’s become a home when they’re not training.

“They call it the nature island, half tropical rain forest, half Caribbean beach,” Di Silvestri said. “The sand is black, not white. They have 1400m high peaks. It has everything. It has mountains. It has caves. It has hiking, beaches, beautiful crystal clear water, snorkeling, the whole bit. It’s untouched by tourism, relatively speaking.”

Dominica offered them citizenship as a thank you for the charitable work.

“It was kind of given to us,” Di Silvestri said. “It was nothing.”

In November 2012, the International Olympic Committee asked Dominica, among other nations, if it had any athletes it was considering for the Sochi Olympics, Di Silvestri said. There were few options.

The nation had sent no more than six athletes to each of the past five Summer Olympics but never a Winter Games. Dominica is roughly the size of Lexington, Ky., with 70,000 people and doesn’t dip below 60 degrees.

“They knew us, called us and said, ‘Guys, we want you to represent Dominica if you think you can qualify,'” Di Silvestri said. “At first we were hesitant, going from a hobby to a full-time commitment. We said, ‘What the hell. It’s an opportunity. We’ll take it.'”

Di Silvestri began the process by starting the Dominica Ski Federation from scratch, using a constitution template given to them by the International Ski Federation. There were certainly doubts.

“I’m not exactly a spring chicken,” said Morrone di Silvestri, who skied on the Italian Alps as a child. “Can we do it?”

They were officially eligible beginning this season, and they furiously attempted to qualify. They entered lower-level Australia/New Zealand Cup, U.S. Super Tour, Nor-Am Cup and FIS races, finishing from 10th to 78th place.

Event organizers questioned them countless times after looking at athlete start lists with birth years next to names.

“’90, ’91, ’92, ’93, all of a sudden ’67, ’65, is there a typo here?” he said. “We’re kind of used to it.”

They were intimidated at first, but Di Silvestri qualified in December, and his wife did so last week in her last-chance race.

“One broken pole or a broken ski would have been the end of it,” Di Silvestri said.

They’re still finalizing travel arrangements but are confident they will be in Sochi and march in the Opening Ceremony. Di Silvestri will carry the flag.

They’ll compete on back-to-back days. The women’s 10km cross-country race is Feb .13, followed by the men’s 15km on Feb. 14. They’re going in with experienced mindsets, having already ordered Dominica pins to trade.

“Our coach said that’s going to be a hot commodity,” Di Silvestri said. “So we’re having them made up. They’re going to trade like currency, good as gold.”

U.S. skier overcomes cancer, makes Olympics

Medals or mosquitoes? Zika still talk of Olympic golf

Rory McIlroy
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Olympic qualifying for golf ends in seven weeks, at which time players will have to determine if medals outweigh mosquitoes.

For now, there is only concern.

Rory McIlroy was the latest player to say Zika was in the back of his mind. In an interview with the BBC after his Irish Open victory, he said he has been reading up on the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to serious birth defects. McIlroy is engaged, and he said they might be starting a family in the next few years.

“I have to monitor that situation,” he said.

Masters champion Danny Willett was the next to weigh in. Asked about it Tuesday at the BMW PGA Championship, the 28-year-old from England said he was keeping on top of it. Willett’s wife, Nicole, had their first child just 11 days before he slipped on the green jacket.

“It’s not great, is it? There’s going to be 500,000 people watching the Olympics, and you have 11,000 athletes right in the heart of where it’s at,” Willett said. “If it turns out that it would be a massive threat to myself or to Nic or to the little man, then I probably wouldn’t go. Family comes first.

“But as it stands at the minute, I think everything should be OK.”

The Zika virus is in the news everywhere, which goes beyond the standard media outlets.

The International Golf Federation posted a two-page update on its website last month, and it is passing along Zika-related material from the International Olympic Committee and the World Health Organization to tours and player liaisons.

Andy Levinson, executive director of USA Golf, said Tuesday that updates from WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are posted in the weekly bulletins left in lockers and on the “Players Links” website, where PGA Tour players get other pertinent information they don’t want to miss – like tee times, and FedEx Cup points, and where to leave their courtesy cars.

Two weeks ago at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s doctor was in player dining for one-on-ones on Zika.

Vijay Singh made a passing reference to Zika last month when the 53-year-old Fijian decided not to play. Marc Leishman of Australia also mentioned Zika, and for good reason. His wife nearly died last year of toxic shock syndrome and her immune system remains weakened.

The other players to pull out — Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel — cited a busy schedule or family priorities.

Ask a player a question, and there’s bound to be an answer, even if it’s not entirely informed. McIlroy said he was planning to get “injections” on Wednesday so that “I will be immunized for whatever — if I do get bitten by a mosquito down there.”

There is no vaccine for the Zika virus.

IGF executive director Antony Scanlon said he was in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks ago for meetings and saw workers spraying “an unbelievable amount of anti-mosquito” repellant around the various venues. He also repeated the timing — August is the tail end of winter in Brazil, and mosquitoes are not expected to be as prevalent.

Scanlon said he was most curious by the silence from the other side — the women.

“If anyone is at risk, it’s the ladies,” Scanlon said Tuesday from London. “We’ve heard nothing from them. I’m sure they’ve got concerns. And we’re distributing as much information as we can to the players.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said as much two weeks ago during an Olympic news conference. He said five or six players have asked him about Zika, though none has said it would keep her from Rio. In an email Tuesday, he said not much has changed.

“They have been receiving regular updates on the topic,” Whan said. “No player has suggested she is not coming (at least not to me). But it is certainly a concern.”

It could be another example that the Olympics mean more to the women, who rarely get a stage as large as this and have a stronger tradition of competing for country in what was the first truly global tour.

Various headlines made it sound as though McIlroy and Willett might skip the Olympics because of Zika, and while their answers allowed some wiggle room, the context of their statements suggested nothing has changed.

At least not yet.

“We’re down to go and hopefully they can give us some proper guidelines as to how to keep it at bay and keep it under control so that it doesn’t ruin what could be potentially a fantastic Olympics,” Willett said.

“Not as apprehensive as I once was,” McIlroy said about the Olympics. “As it gets closer, I am relishing the thought of going down there and competing for gold.”

This much is clear — golfers currently eligible for the Olympics are having to study more than hole locations and wind direction.

MORE: WHO: Olympics OK to go on

Russian Olympic champion positive in Beijing doping retest

Anna Chicherova
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London Olympic high jump champion Anna Chicherova is one of many Russians among 31 athletes overall who tested positive in recent retests of Beijing Olympic samples, according to Russian news agency TASS.

TASS named nine 2008 Olympic medalists among 14 Russian athletes, citing a Russian TV report, including eight medalists in track and field, with Chicherova being the superstar of the group.

“Perhaps it’s just a mistake,” Chicherova said, according to an Associated Press translation of a Russian TV report. “I can’t explain how my doping test gave a positive result. I’ve competed a lot since then and given hundreds of samples.”

Last week, the International Olympic Committee said 31 unnamed athletes from 12 nations across six sports failed drug tests in retesting of 454 samples from 2008 using the latest drug-testing methods.

Chicherova, 33, took high jump gold at the London Games and bronze in Beijing. She is one of two track and field athletes to earn an individual-event medal at the last five World Championships and last two Olympics. The other is Usain Bolt.

Chicherova, who has had no previously widespread reported doping history, would be one of Russia’s top Olympic track and field medal hopes in Rio, should the ban on Russian track and field athletes competing be lifted before the Games.

Russia is expected to learn if it will be allowed to send a track and field team to Rio on June 17.

“The Ministry of Sport is extremely disappointed to hear the speculation that Russian athletes are among those found to have violated anti-doping rules at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after re-testing their samples,” the Russian Ministry of Sport said in a statement through Burson-Marsteller public relations firm. “Any athletes found cheating should face corresponding sanctions.

“We have taken numerous steps to eradicate the issue of doping, and understand that the roots of the problem, particularly in athletics, go back to the past.”

MORE: Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics