If you’re like me, at some point during every Winter Olympics you sit and think to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could compete in the games?” Then you continue to sit on your couch under a sweatshirt blanket because it’s freezing outside.
But one average athlete (aka not a do-or-die Olympian in training) decided to act on her dream of entering the Olympics, and she found just the loophole to get her there.
Meet Elizabeth Swaney, a freestyle skier competing for Hungary. Freestyle skiers are generally elite athletes who fly though a frozen half-pipe as they pull off gravity-defying spins and tricks before trying to not snap their bodies in half while landing.
Swaney, on the other hand, treats the event like she’s on a leisurely vacation at a ski resort:
How freeskier Elizabeth Swaney made it to the #WinterOlympics with this very simple halfpipe run: https://t.co/enfDyoQjGC pic.twitter.com/kHTAV7XND4
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 20, 2018
As you can see in the video, Swaney shuffles her way down the slope before she heads into the halfpipe and … just sort of skis in a zig-zag. She doesn’t attempt any tricks, and barely gets any air. Bless the hearts of the commentators who, without the ability to call out 1080s and grabs, had to come up with a name for a trick that was not really a trick.
“Nice ‘Just getting up to the top of the wall,'” one announcer said, followed by, “Opting for another ‘Just cruising to the top of the wall.'”
Unsurprisingly, Swaney did not qualify for the medal run. To give you some perspective, this is Swaney’s elevation over the half pipe:
Meanwhile, this is Canadian Cassie Sharp, who went on to win gold in the event:
So, how did a woman who is not terribly great at skiing wind up competing in the greatest winter sports event in the world? According to the Denver Post, Swaney was able to take advantage of the fact that freestyle skiing is still a relatively new sport, with fewer competitors than some of the more established winter sports.
Swaney, 33, is actually an American, but began competing for Venezuela and then Hungary (her maternal grandparents are apparently from there) and was able to rack up qualifying points simply by showing up to World Cup events with very few participants and not falling on her butt!
“The field is not that deep in the women’s pipe and she went to every World Cup, where there were only 24, 25 or 28 women,” half pipe and slope style judge Steele Spence told the Denver Post. “She would compete in them consistently over the last couple years and sometimes girls would crash so she would not end up dead last.”
Due to limits on the amount of competitors from each country, Swaney found herself with a ticket to South Korea, where she is making the most of her Olympic experience. She even walked in the opening ceremony!
“I’m just trying to do the best for myself and represent Hungary as best as I can,” she told the newspaper. “I really hope to inspire others in Hungary to take up freestyle skiing and I hope that contributes to a greater number of people out there freestyle skiing.”
While some of the other athletes reportedly have a problem with Swaney “gaming” the system, others have seen her as a hero representing the everyday American who, just once, wants to experience Olympic glory.
🙌 @ElizabethSwaney is the most inspirational athlete at these games bar none https://t.co/xxteejCaxa
— Marcus Taylor (@Marcus_Taylor16) February 19, 2018
Plus, while her skills might pale in comparison to the other Olympic athletes, she still had to stay upright while going up the side of a half-pipe with the entire world watching her. That’s pretty impressive!
If you don’t find Swaney’s Olympic story to be inspiring, her off-the-slopes accomplishments might make you a fan. She holds degrees from Harvard and University of California, Berkeley and speaks five languages, including Mandarin. Plus, as a teenager, the Oakland, California resident ran for governor of the Golden State against Arnold Schwarzenegger!
Frankly, I think we could all learn a lesson from her about chasing our dreams, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Of course, by exposing a slight flaw in the system, Swaney has likely closed the door for novice athletes like us to get into the Olympics. Oh well, there’s still hope to learn curling.