Elizabeth Swaney is likely the least skilled athlete at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but the American who represented Hungary in PyeongChang has quickly become one of the most polarizing stories.
On Monday, Swaney was one of 24 skiers who took part in the women’s freestyle halfpipe event. The 33-year-old finished dead last, and it’s easy to see why when you watch her run:
— Tomasz Mortimer (@TMortimerFtbl) February 19, 2018
Swaney simply rode back and forth down the halfpipe, incorporating virtually no tricks or anything that even an average skier would find difficult. A feature from Jason Blevins of the Denver Post on Sunday explained how Swaney qualified for the Olympics. Basically, she funded her own training and fulfilled the requirements by participating in 13 World Cup halfpipe contests, meeting the Olympic requirement for top-30 finishes by competing in events with around 30 or less than 30 entrants.
“I’m just trying to do the best for myself and represent Hungary as best as I can,” Swaney, whose grandparents are from Hungary, said after Sunday’s practice run. “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.”
FIS ski halfpipe and slopestyle judge Steele Spence told Blevins that plans are in the works to up the standards needed to qualify for the halfpipe up at the Olympics, such as needing more points than those you can accumulate just from completing a run without falling. Many fans found Swaney’s determination inspirational:
Don't hate the player. Hate the game. Love her resourcefulness and determination. She's an Olympic athlete. Can you say that? Didn't think so. Well done @ElizabethSwaney! https://t.co/umH7eFA2rF … #PyongChang2018
— Edwin Torres, D.Eng. (@realEdwinTorres) February 19, 2018
— Steve Z (@BluetickSteve) February 19, 2018
@ElizabethSwaney Don’t listen to haters – I think it’s awesome you found a way to the Olympics and what you did was not easy even for an experienced skier.
— T Scholl (@TPScholl) February 19, 2018
@ElizabethSwaney The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part, – de Coubertin/As the couch potatoes of the world criticize
— Jason (@jsnvst) February 19, 2018
You go @ElizabethSwaney! Love what you have done. Keep at it and F the negative idiots
— RealRoyMoore69 (@RoyMoore69) February 19, 2018
I know a lot of people are giving you grief on twitter but I think you are an inspiration, you worked hard to make it to this special moment and you should enjoy it to the fullest. Keep on practicing and getting better and never give up on your dreams!!
— Edwardo (@enobes27) February 19, 2018
@ElizabethSwaney embodies the latter and deserves congratulations! Being an Olympian athlete is a huge accomplishment!
— Kyle Boucher (@KBoucher34) February 19, 2018
Others, naturally, were not so kind:
How can you say you want to inspire others when you are doing the bare minimum? Ur not even trying. You just found a loophole and now you are there. How come you haven't gotten better since the circuit? Just shameful.
— Gilbert G. (@559onan) February 19, 2018
Worked hard? My sister could do better than her. She stole a spot from someone who actually deserves it
— Jason (@ItsNOSAJ) February 19, 2018
She claimed Hungary because it was easier to scam her way into the Olympics that way. She was Venezuelan a year ago.
— Chris Parus (@skivvies12) February 19, 2018
This Elizabeth Swaney deal is interesting and tough for the IOC. You have to make sure countries have an ability to compete, but something has to be done to prevent a sham like that. #Olympics
— Armen Saryan (@ArmenSaryan) February 19, 2018
@ElizabethSwaney you should be ashamed for your Olympic stunt. Another look at me person.
— Mat Tuiter (@mad2iter) February 19, 2018
@ElizabethSwaney you are a complete joke… making a mockery of a sport and Olympics where real athletes work hard to achieve dreams and show out for our country, smh
— Tua to Smitty!!! (@rburn20) February 19, 2018
Luckily @ElizabethSwaney is skiing for Hungary. Watching her play the system to get into the Olympics is quite hilarious. Good job on that.
— Michael Ross (@Ross_Boss93) February 19, 2018
The Hungarian Ski Federation said it was completely unaware of Swaney’s skill level and had not seen her in competition in the past year.
Hungarian Ski Federation on Elizabeth Swaney:"The situation was mainly caused by the qualification system and few participants. It is a fact that we have not seen Elizabeth in action the last year, we realised her level at the Olympics. She self-funded her preparation&qualifying"
— Gergely Marosi (@emgergo) February 19, 2018
Some skiers who chose to remain anonymous told the Denver Post they believe the Olympics should be a stage for the elite to showcase their skills, while others felt having an amateur might “provide perspective.” No matter which side you stand on, you have to commend Swaney for her determination. Like the Mexican skier we saw who came in dead last in a cross-country event, she put in the time and effort needed to accomplish her goal.