February 9, 2014
More Than the Best Have Headed To The Olympics
Hubertus von Hohenlohe, a Mexican-born German Prince, will be the oldest athlete at this year’s Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. He is reportedly descended from the Austrian Imperial family, but was in fact born in Mexico. At 58 years old he’s also the second oldest Olympic athlete ever, so he’s quite a fascinating character. He’s a singer, businessman and skier. His chances of winning are slim, however.
Mexico isn’t exactly a nation that has had a lot of luck with Nordic skiers of course, and while von Hohenlohe likely has skiing in his blood, he has never had a top finish in his event. He actually finished 38th in the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. Now, 30 years later he is back, but should he be at Sochi?
During a past summer Olympic Games, I debated with some colleagues whether it would be possible to compete in the Olympics and not finish last. One colleague said it would be impossible, as the people who head to the Games are “Olympians.” However, it could be possible to take time off and do nothing but train and possibly do OK, but my colleagues argued that true Olympians spend their life preparing.
In 1999, actress Geena Davis tried to make Team USA for archery, and that was just three years after she was inspired by the sport. Prior to watching the competition in the 1996 Summer Olympics Games in Atlanta, Davis had never picked up a bow. She didn’t go on to make the American Olympic team in 2000, but she did reasonably well.
Then there is the story of Lolo Jones, who will be competing in bobsled this year. Ms. Jones is a true Olympian and had competed on the running track in Beijing and London. She was one hurdle away from winning gold in Beijing, but stumbled and went home empty handed. She placed fourth in London in the event. Last year she decided to try the bobsled and was good enough to make the team and head to Sochi.
Some might call her an Olympic Carpetbagger – that is, someone who heads to a different event in hopes of a medal, or at least more time in the spotlight. In the case of Jones, she proved she is worthy, but at what cost?
While Jones proved she was good enough, it meant that some bobsledders who spent their lives training for the moment didn’t get to head to Sochi.
Then there are the true Carpetbaggers. While von Hohenlohe speaks German and was schooled in Austria, he is Mexican born. 21-year old freeskier Julia Marino lives in New England, but is competing for Paraguay, where she was born. Adopted by American parents, Marino picked up the sport as a youth.
This reporter means no disrespect to Ms. Marino, but she really is only representing Paraguay because her chances of making the US team were slim. In her case, she is able to compete with true Olympians, as she finished second at the Freestyle Ski World Cup last year.
So yes, Ms. Marino deserves to be in Sochi.
However, there are others that make you wonder.
Angelica Morrone di Silvestri was born in Italy, and at 48 will be the oldest woman to compete in Olympic cross-country skiing; while her husband Gary di Silvestri is also a first-time Olympian at 47. He’s from Staten Island, New York and will also compete in the Olympic cross-country skiing. Both will compete in the Olympics for Dominica, a former British colony with about 73,000 inhabitants.
They did charitable work for the island and earned citizenship, which allows them to compete in the games. Husband Gary only took up the sport in his 30s, and his chances of winning are bad.
He won’t likely finish in last place, however. Nepal cross-country skier Dachhiri Sherpa of Nepal, who is 44, is also competing in the event. He finished 94th out of 96 finishers and 92nd out of 95, respectively, in the 15km at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics.
Sherpa isn’t a true Carpetbagger, but you really have to wonder whether this is in keeping the notion of being an Olympian. Find a sport your nation doesn’t have and go and compete and suddenly you’re an Olympian – meanwhile those who train for lives often continue to only dream!