'Worst. Olympian. Ever': Average skier sneaks into Olympics on technicality
Published Tuesday, February 20, 2018 10:28AM EST
There’s a popular joke on social media that suggests every Olympic event should include one average person for reference.
Hungarian halfpipe skier Elizabeth Swaney is that average person.
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The U.S.-born job recruiter is winning participation swag and social media infamy for her efforts to survive the Olympic-level competition, despite a total lack of world-class ability.
It’s not that Swaney is bad at doing tricks on the halfpipe. It’s that she doesn’t do anything at all, beyond going up and down enough times to satisfy competition requirements.
Her safe-and-steady approach captured viewers’ attention in Pyeongchang on Tuesday, where she simply skied up and down the halfpipe on her way to a last-place finish out of 24 participants.
The 33-year-old Swaney, who lives in Los Angeles, squeaked her way into the Olympic competition by gaming the qualification system as a competitor for Hungary, where her grandparents were born.
Swaney spent the last two years participating in World Cup competitions with relatively few participants, so she could give herself a good shot at finishing in the top 30 at each event. All she had to do was avoid falling so she could finish ahead of those who did, and she eventually climbed high enough in the rankings to stamp her ticket for Pyeongchang.
The International Skiing Federation lists Swaney at No. 34 out of 40 women ranked in the women’s halfpipe event. It shows Swaney appeared in 15 World Cup events and one World Cup championship, finishing 13th in her best competition and 33rd in her worst.
In a statement, the Hungarian Ski Federation said Swaney wound up at the Olympics because the sport is “still in its infancy,” and there are not enough highly-qualified athletes to push her out of competition.
The HSF added in its translated statement that there are issues with the way the sport is currently scored, because someone who demonstrates “nice elements” and falls will be scored lower than someone like Swaney, who does nothing but stay on her skis.
“Since she did not take anyone’s place, we do not think we should not have supported her Olympic start,” the organization said.
Swaney’s uncanny mediocrity has proven divisive on social media, where some are celebrating her ingenuity, while others are condemning her for competing well above her level.
“Worst. Olympian. Ever,” wrote one Twitter user. “I LOVE YOU #ElizabethSwaney.”
“That’s right kids, you too can get into the Olympics just like Elizabeth Swaney.— #VoteThemOut 202-224-3121 (@KsKM3) February 19, 2018
1. Have enough money to travel the world competing in skiing events for 2 years.
2. Make sure the events have less than 30 competitors.
3. Place in the Top 30.”
I love the strategy - just finish. Let the others fall and finish last. I’ll give her credit for even jumping into that halfpipe.— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) February 19, 2018
She stuck every landing— Robert Hackney (@BobbyHackney) February 19, 2018
The #Olympics are just a giant farce these days. When athletes like #ElizabethSwaney go “country shopping” it’s become a debacle. She was born and raised in the U.S., is an American citizen, and competed for Venezuela before competing for Hungary in 2018. @iocmedia— Tom Prefect (@Stubborn_Truths) February 19, 2018
Swaney is unlikely to ever win gold, silver or even bronze at the Olympics, but she does appear to have received at least one participation medal. The skier shared a photo of said medal, which was made of chocolate, on her Facebook page last week.
“Yum! Thank you, Pyeongchang Olympic Village!” she wrote in the photo caption.
Swaney briefly attempted to ski for Venezuela, her mother’s home country, before shifting her Olympic allegiances to Hungary.
She also appears to be at least trying to develop halfpipe tricks. Several videos from her Instagram page show her training and practising various tricks.