Elizabeth Swaney is the Harvard graduate who, after running against Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bid to be California governor, started skiing at 25 and ended up at the Winter Olympic Games.
Getting to Pyeongchang was a convoluted process for Swaney, one that involved switches of allegiance, first to Venezuela and then to Hungary, a series of crowd-funding campaigns and years of persistence.
But her perseverance worked and she managed to secure a place in the Games.
And Swaney’s qualifying run for Monday’s women’s ski halfpipe final in South Korea was eye-catching to say the least.
Onlookers were left bemused by what was essentially risk-free skiing, tactics that simply don’t impress judges when places in the final are up for grabs.
The 33-year-old seemed more concerned with staying upright, producing two efforts that left her dead last in qualifying and unhappy.
Watch one of Swaney’s runs below
#ElizabethSwaney (US) gamed the system, used her grandparents to join the Hungarian team. No tricks. 30/100. Last place.
Which is only one place better than me! @kevinandbean pic.twitter.com/3zrgre63P3
— Kevin Ryder (@thekevinryder) February 19, 2018
“I didn’t qualify for the finals, so I’m really disappointed with that,” Swaney said afterwards.
“But I worked really for several years to achieve this.”
Further investigation proves this to be the case.
It also highlights major failings in the qualification system, ones that should be urgently addressed if the Games are to remain the pinnacle of winter sport.
Swaney has not missed a World Cup event in recent years, travelling to destinations like Italy, New Zealand and China as she made the most of a legislation loophole that dictates you can qualify for the Games with a series of top-30 finishes.
Many World Cup events in the women’s halfpipe don’t even have 30 competitors.
Also in Swaney’s favour was her extremely cautious style of skiing, which meant she often finished higher than skiers who crashed out.
“The field is not that deep in the women’s pipe … she went to every World Cup,” experienced halfpipe judge Steele Spence told The Denver Post.
Swaney, realising she would not be good enough to qualify for the United States, initially competed for Venezuela – the country where her mother was born.
A switch to Hungary, through her grandparents, followed in 2016, and it was the European nation she represented in Pyeongchang.
‘This is absolutely ridiculous’
Australian Winter Olympics legend Steven Bradbury said the fact Swaney competed at the Games was “embarrassing” for organisers.
“This is absolutely ridiculous – how can that person qualify? It’s embarrassing,” he told The New Daily.
“We had ‘Eddie The Eagle’ and the Jamaican bobsled team but I thought these kind of novelty acts were a thing of the past.
“This isn’t what the Winter Olympics is about. Most athletes train their guts out to be there and there’s this hacker there.”
Bradbury insisted the qualification rules needed tightening – and quickly.
“Something has to be overhauled,” he said.
“I could do a better job on my snowboard – and I’m not even that good on it.
“The Olympics should be the pinnacle of sport.”
Swaney later said that she hoped her run to the Games would act as inspiration for others.
“I want to show others that freestyle skiing is possible and it is never too late to get into this sport, and to help others to dream and to progress the sport in Hungary,” she said.
“I hope this can be a platform to inspire others.”
At best her bid to reach the Games could be described as cunning and clever, at worst a scam and a waste of everyone’s time.
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