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

Elana Meyers Taylor crashes, brakewoman ejected (video)

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Two-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor‘s start to the World Cup bobsled season was both record-breaking and painful.

Meyers Taylor and brakewoman Kehri Jones had the fastest women’s start time ever recorded on the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler, B.C., on Saturday.

But only one of them made it to the finish.

Meyers Taylor crashed the sled during their first run, with the impact causing Jones to eject out the back and slide along the chute before coming to a stop.

Both athletes were able to walk off the track, according to U.S. Bobsled.

Meyers Taylor missed four races last season while receiving treatment for long-term effects from a January 2015 concussion. She returned to win at the last two stops.

MORE: Why Steven Holcomb mulled retirement

Diver Sammy Lee, first Asian-American male gold medalist, dies at 96

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 18:  1948 and 1952 Olympic platform diving gold medalist Dr. Sammy Lee and Olympic diving hopeful Brittany Viola of the United States attend the Team USA Road to London 100 Days Out Celebration in Times Square on April 18, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for USOC)
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Dr. Sammy Lee, the first Asian-American man to win an Olympic gold medal and first male diver to repeat as Olympic champion, died of pneumonia at age 96 on Friday, according to the University of Southern California.

Lee was born in Fresno, Calif., of Korean parents.

He unretired from a medical career to compete in his first Olympics in London in 1948, after the Games took a 12-year break due to World War II.

Lee earned platform gold and springboard bronze in 1948 and then retired, unretired and defended his platform title in 1952. Lee and another Asian-American, Victoria Manolo-Draves, who had a Filipino father and English mother, both won diving titles in 1948, with Draves’ springboard gold coming first.

Lee also served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the Korean War.

He succeeded despite facing racial discrimination. From TeamUSA.org:

When Sammy was growing up, non-whites could use the pool where he practiced one day a week, on Wednesdays only. And then, as he has told it, the pool would be emptied after the non-whites used it, and fresh water was brought in the next day.

When the pool was off-limits, Sammy practiced by jumping into a sand pile.

Lee went on to coach divers, including Greg Louganis, after his competitive career, and continued his medical work. He graduated from USC’s medical school in 1947.

He is a member of the U.S. Olympic and International Swimming Halls of Fame.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously reported Lee was the first Asian-American Olympic champion. He was the second.