Angelica Morrone di Silvestri was a bit of a mystery woman as she prepared for the start of last month’s Nordic ski race at the Colby College Winter Carnival in Waterville. No one recognized her face or her name.
She was another skier trying to qualify for a country’s Olympic team somewhere else in the world.
She wasn’t a student at Colby or Vermont or Dartmouth or any of the other schools at the rustic Quarry Road Recreation Area that weekend. She didn’t attend a ski academy such as Burke Mountain in Vermont.
At age 48 she was old enough to be the competitors’ mother. With a finish of more than five minutes behind the leader in the Classic 5K race and again in the freestyle 10K race the next day, di Silvestri was applauded for chasing a dream.
No one knew that in fact, di Silvestri had become only the second Winter Olympian in the history of the tiny Caribbean Island nation of Dominica and its population of 71,000.
Her 47-year-old husband, Gary di Silvestri, was the first. He qualified in December at another race and carried the flag of Dominica in the opening ceremonies Friday night.
When Angelica competes Thursday in the women’s 10K race she will be the oldest to compete in that event. When Gary competes in Friday’s men’s 15K race, they will become the first husband and wife Nordic competitors in the same Winter Olympics.
The Colby Winter Carnival, held Jan. 17-18 after 4 inches of rain earlier in the week, was Angelica’s last chance to qualify. This week in Sochi, neither has a prayer of getting a medal.
Their story has provoked smiles and frowns. They met as students at Rome University in Italy, her native country. He grew up on Staten Island, New York City’s more suburban borough. He went to a Catholic high school, played football, wrestled and did well in the classroom.
He graduated from Georgetown, got a master’s degree from Columbia, married Angelica in 1990 and made her his partner in an asset management company he started. They were very successful. They’ve shared their wealth. At age 30 he took up Nordic skiing. It’s not clear when Angelica started. That’s the smiley part.
After visiting Dominica on vacation they decided to donate money for medical and educational facilities. The island is in the southeast Caribbean in the Lesser Antilles area. The former British colony has black sand beaches and its cash crop is bananas.
Dominica’s grateful government gave Angelica and Gary di Silvestri a gift: citizenship. Now the frowny part. Some believe the couple bought their citizenship and bought their status as Winter Olympians. A message sent Monday to Angelica’s email address wasn’t answered by Tuesday night. News accounts say Dominica sports officials, heeding a call from the International Olympic Committee for more athletes from the Caribbean to compete in the Winter Olympics, approached the couple first.
Hey, what’s wrong with a Dominican version of the Jamaican bobsledders?
“I’m relatively fond of the Philip Boit story,” said Patrick Cote, the chief of competition at the Colby Carnival, who watched di Silvestri compete. “He was the Kenyan who couldn’t make it as a runner and learned to ski (cross country). He made the Olympics.”
After training in Finland with sponsorship from Nike, Boit finished last among 92 skiers in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Bjorn Daehlie of Norway won the race and the gold medal, but stayed at the finish line to hug Boit.
“This one is harder to swallow,” said Cote, referring to di Silvestri’s story. He softened when he heard that Dominica reportedly approached the husband and wife, and not the other way around.
The Colby Winter Carnival is sanctioned by the International Ski Association (French abbreviation FIS). Cote and his wife, Tracey Cote, the Nordic coach at Colby for 14 years, have encountered Olympic last-chance hopefuls before.
“Our course can be pretty technical,” said Tracey Cote. “We’ve actually talked other skiers (trying to qualify) out of racing here. They decided to race at the Rumford Eastern Cup (at Black Mountain) which was also a FIS race.
“I’m happy for (Angelica) that it worked out. She was very friendly and it was interesting to learn her story. I think of the Olympics as the ultimate test of the best athletes of the sport so I can’t imagine racing in Sochi with her results.
“But everyone’s dream is different and I’m happy she was able to follow hers.”
Angelica and Gary di Silvestri did the work. They qualified for Sochi. They, not Dominican taxpayers, have paid all their expenses. Good luck to them.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at firstname.lastname@example.org