What would you do to participate in the Olympics and get a nice wave of publicity?
Would you gain citizenship in a small foreign country? Would you go to the Games knowing that your best performances had barely pushed you over the very low bar to qualify in a couple of events?
And would you do all this knowing you’re going to come under such heavy scrutiny that people would end up doubting the injury and illness that kept you from competing?
It’s easy to shrug off the Deadspin report on “Dominica’s fake ski team” — Gary di Silvestri and Angelica Morrone — given Deadspin’s basic mission as a sports site for people who want to feel superior to athletes. But Deadspin has been turning up some sound investigations recently, and the byline here belongs to Dave McKenna, the intrepid D.C. journalist whose work for City Paper infuriated Washington NFL owner Dan Snyder to the point of legal intimidation tactics.
And McKenna turns up details that haven’t been seen elsewhere, digging into di Silvestri’s claims about his high school wrestling and college rowing exploits.
Other aspects of the di Silvestri story might be piling on. Angelica Morrone’s role in Fiat’s questionable tactics in lobbying for events in Italy seems less interesting to me than it does to McKenna — a parenthetical, perhaps, but not much else. A land deal in Turks and Caicos is a little more interesting, but the evidence of wrongdoing isn’t conclusive at this point.
For Olympic organizers, the bigger question is this: How did these two get into the Games? And veteran Olympic reporter Mark Zeigler dug deeply into that question. Everyone who competes in the Olympics has to qualify somehow, but is the bar too low in places?
I had this discussion during the Games with Ken Childs, the North Carolinian who tracks sliding sports in vivid detail. He lamented the limited Olympic quotas on skeleton and bobsled while certain ski events have just about anyone who can put on skis. And he has a point about keeping dedicated, qualified sliders out of the Games while the gallivanting di Silvestris walk in the Opening Ceremony.
But the low bar in a few events has a noble purpose. In the Summer Olympics, you’ll see scores of small countries represented in track and field’s 100 meters or perhaps a short swim race. Judo also opens up to more than 130 countries. The FIS (skiing) criteria designates the less risky Alpine races and a couple of cross-country races with low qualification standards for countries to get one male athlete and one female athlete into the competition.
And you’d hate to see that open door slammed shut. For every couple that games the system and gets a dubious invitation to the Games, there’s a guy from East Timor who inspires his nation just by getting through a brutal slalom course that tripped up roughly two-thirds of the skiers. He can go the rest of his life telling people he beat Ted Ligety.
The moral of the di Silvestris is this: If you have anything questionable in your past, you might want to address it before you let yourself become a feel-good Olympic story. The spotlight isn’t always a happy place.