For Pete's Sake

Is the skier in viral video an Olympic inspiration or did she game the system?

Elizabeth Marian Swaney during the women’s halfpipe qualifying at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Monday.
Elizabeth Marian Swaney during the women’s halfpipe qualifying at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Monday. The Associated Press

The video of Elizabeth Swaney competing Monday in the qualifying rounds of the women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang was widely shared.

That wasn’t because of Swaney’s remarkable run or scary fall. No, there were no attempts to catapult herself in the air or do some of the amazing spins like the other Olympians who have dazzled viewers.

Swaney, an American who was competing for Hungary, simply made sure she didn’t fall each time she skied up a pipe and spun back around.

Not surprisingly, Swaney finished last in qualifying with a score of 31.40. The next closest finisher had a 45.0.

“I’m just trying to do the best for myself and represent Hungary as best as I can,” Swaney told the Denver Post before her final practice on Sunday. “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.”

That may be the case, but how did she even make the Olympic field?

The Post noted that Swaney, 33, got there by attending World Cup around the world, in places like China, New Zealand, France and Canada, and meet the Olympic requirement for a finish in the top 30.

“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,” judge Steele Spence told the 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. There are going to be changes to World Cup quotas and qualifying to be eligible for the Olympics. Those things are in the works so technically you need to qualify up through the system.”

Swaney, who lives in California, has Hungarian grandparents, so that is how she was allowed to compete for that country.

The Hungarian ski federation told a journalist: “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 realized her level at the Olympics. She self-funded her preparation and qualifying.”

So is Swaney a plucky “Eddie the Eagle” type or someone who shouldn’t be allowed to compete? Depends on your perspective.

The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Sorry Elizabeth Swaney, Olympics should be reserved for the best athletes” and Deadspin’s story was headlined, “The Winter Olympics feature 2,951 of the world’s greatest athletes, and also this woman.”

There were some upset people on Twitter, too:

But others were thrilled for Swaney, who is taking in the Olympic experience:

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff

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