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

Lindsey Vonn gets bad luck, Mikaela Shiffrin misses gate in super-G

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Neither Lindsey Vonn nor Mikaela Shiffrin made the podium, but Swiss Lara Gut notched her first victory Sunday since a major knee injury.

Gut, the 2016 World Cup overall champion who tore an ACL in February, topped a World Cup super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, by .14 over Italian Johanna Schnarf.

Austrian Nicole Schmidhofer was third. Full results are here.

Vonn dropped to sixth, .37 behind, dropped a couple of expletives in the finish corral and posted on social media afterward that she caught her strongest wind gust in more than 400 career starts.

“I’m not mad; I’m just a little bit frustrated,” Vonn said. “Sometimes this happens in ski racing where the races aren’t really fair. The wind comes. The light comes. The clouds come. But I tried my best. I’m happy with my skiing. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t very lucky today. Hopefully I can get some of this luck and take it with me to February [and the Olympics] and get some better conditions.”

Vonn placed second and first in downhills in Cortina on Friday and Saturday, confirming she’s a favorite to become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist next month.

Shiffrin was off her line early in Sunday’s run and eventually missed a gate, screaming out of frustration.

She is still cutting her teeth in the speed events of downhill and super-G and was third and seventh in the previous two races.

“The problem was with my [pre-race course] inspection, and I’m not exactly sure what we can do for me to be better prepared for super-Gs,” Shiffrin said, according to The Associated Press. “One of my biggest issues right now is still switching from the timing of downhill turns to super-G turns.”

Laurenne Ross became the sixth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for the Olympic team thanks to a previous top-10. Ross, the second-best U.S. speed racer behind Vonn last season, came back from blowing out her right knee in a March 27 crash.

The World Cup moves to Kronplatz, Italy, on Tuesday for a giant slalom, where Shiffrin will be favored (full Alpine season broadcast schedule here).

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2018 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team General Manager Jim Johannson dies at 53

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Jim Johannson, the general manager of the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, has died on the eve of the Pyeongchang Games. He was 53.

Johannson passed away in his sleep Sunday morning, according to USA Hockey. Executive director Pat Kelleher said the organization is “beyond shocked and profoundly saddened” by the loss of the Rochester, Minnesota native.

“As accomplished as Jim was in hockey, he was the absolute best, most humble, kind and caring person you could ever hope to meet,” Kelleher said in a release. “His impact on our sport and more importantly the people and players in our sport have been immeasurable. Our condolences go out to his entire family, but especially to his loving wife Abby and their young daughter Ellie.”

Johannson’s role in selecting this year’s Olympic team was his most high-profile job in a career spent in hockey. He also played for the U.S. in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

The United States faces Slovenia in its Pyeongchang opener on Feb. 14.

“There are few like Jimmy,” said Ron DeGregorio, chairman of the board of USA Hockey. “Our sport was so lucky to have him. He was as good of a person you’ll meet and he played such a significant role in helping move our sport forward. Today is a tough day for everyone.”

Johannson began working for USA Hockey in 2000 after spending five years as the general manager of the Twin Cities Vulcans in the United States Hockey League. He was promoted to assistant executive director of hockey operations in 2007, overseeing the organization’s efforts in fielding teams for international competition.

He played college hockey at Wisconsin and helped the Badgers win the NCAA championship as a freshman. He was selected by Hartford in the seventh round of the 1982 draft, but never played in the NHL.

“When we heard of JJ’s passing, we are reminded of what an enjoyable person he was to be around, and also what he meant to USA Hockey and hockey worldwide,” Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who have a strong connection to USA Hockey, said in a release.

“We should all strive to do our jobs and treat people as JJ did. Jim Johannson, you have moved on, but you will not be forgotten. We will miss you.”

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