The Way This Skier Ended Up In The Olympics Has Sparked Controversy

by Penn Collins

February 22, 2018
Elizabeth Swaney of Hungary competes during the Freestyle Skiing Ladies' Ski Halfpipe qualification. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

The Olympics exists as many different things to many different people. Some see it simply as a platform for the world’s premier athletes to compete for the title of “the greatest.” Others see it as a parade of nations and globalism, an inclusive event more than a competitive one. 

While the myriad interpretations are all valid, it should come as little surprise that the athletes themselves see the Olympics as their platform to perform their very best in pursuit of victory. So when U.S.-born Elizabeth Swaney competed in the halfpipe under the Hungarian banner, it wasn’t hard to see why her performance, and inclusion in the Olympics altogether, provoked outrage from her fellow competitors. 

The 33-year-old from Harvard is by no means a bad skier. In fact, tackling the halfpipe and getting air at all is a truly impressive feat ... just not Olympic-caliber. Go to Vail or Jackson Hole and you’d likely see tourists pulling off more complex tricks. 

This footage of her run, which included zero tricks and led to an unsurprising last-place finish. 

So how did a clearly-outclassed skier make it to the Olympics? 

Well, just by showing up at qualifying events prior to the games, actually. According to a USA Today examination, the Olympics aggregate top-30 finishes for the purposes of consideration, and Swaney’s persistence in attending events saw her accumulate top-30 finishes, often by virtue of the fact that the events themselves didn’t have 30 participants. Though she was frequently outskied, her rank would climb even higher when competitors would regularly crash, allowing her to climb up the rankings. 

Unable to claim a spot on the far more competitive United States team, she used her Hungarian ancestry to compete for that nation. 

Swaney had trained intensely in freestyle skiing but struggled to show proficiency in her Olympic halfpipe event. She said to Reuters of her now-viral run: 

I didn't qualify for the finals, so I'm really disappointed with that. But I worked really hard for several years to achieve this. I have been focusing on my Olympic experience but also on the halfpipe here and trying to go higher each time and getting more spins in.

The controversy that surrounds her performance divides fans, athletes, and the media as to whether her performance was a slap in the face to the spirit of the games, or the perfect testament to it. 

In addition to the consideration that she bumped surely more deserving athletes in some capacity (though in a legal fashion), fans traveled far to see the best in the world compete, and it was clear that Swaney was not among them, but competed nonetheless. 

Her competitors, speaking anonymously to the Denver Post, were similarly conflicted, with the paper reporting that some took no issue with the legal avenues she took to get to Pyeongchang, but thought her presence undermined the Olympics role as a world class showcase. 

At the very least, it gave us all some perspective on how difficult the halfpipe is for a non-elite skier. 

Share image via Cameron Spencer/Getty Images. 

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