Olympic skier seizes the opportunity to be mediocre

Elizabeth Swaney’s motto might as well be, “somebody’s got to finish in last place.”

Mission accomplished.

The American-born, Harvard-educated, software engineer recruiter from San Francisco competed for Hungary (because her grandparents were born there) when she turned in an uninspiring performance in the women’s freeski halfpipe qualifiers on Monday.

Compared to the other competitors, Swaney isn’t very good at this. But she gamed the Olympic system to compete, the Boston Globe says, and you either think that’s great or that’s embarrassing.

To qualify for the Olympic freeski halfpipe competition, an athlete must consistently finish in the top 30 of World Cup events. The thing is, there are rarely 30 entries in those events, so Swaney was always able to make the cut.

“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,” longtime FIS ski halfpipe and slopestyle 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.”

Due to a combination of injuries, limits on how many athletes can qualify from one country, and a Hungarian team rule that reallocates some spots on the Olympic team to balance the number of men and women, Swaney made it.

She said she was disappointed not to qualify for the finals.

Social media mostly slaughtered her (mostly people who didn’t compete in the Olympics, mind you) , but there were hints of inspiration that the world still appreciates someone who’s OK with seizing an opportunity finish last.

  • wjc

    I don’t see how people can blame her for following the rules.

  • Al

    She went to every World Cup to qualify. Weren’t we just talking about how cost-prohibitive Winter Olympics sports are? That’s a big investment of time and money.

    • Yeah, that’s why I’m having a hard time working up a lot of worry over the state of U.S. Figure skating.

    • Brian Simon

      Perhaps herein lies the answer to why an actual hungarian didn’t go. Travelling the globe to attend world cup skiing events is extremely expensive. She works in software in the bay area. Sounds like if you have the time and money, you can be an Olympian too.

    • Jeff

      Maybe ski manufacturers other than Armada sponsor her not to use their skis.

      Really nice skis you got there, it would be a shame if I wore them in the Olympics.</em?

  • jon

    You know what they call some one who finishes last in the olympics?
    An olympian.

  • Rob

    Huh. Nice people do sometimes finish last…

  • KTN

    Eddie the Eagle wasn’t very good either, and now he is a hero.
    All you need to do is look at the results from any of the sports contested, and near the bottom, are people that are not really competitive in that sport, but did enough to meet the qualifications to compete. Not everyone wins, but they all come to play – this women included. Good for her.

    • I wonder if there’s anybody in Hungary who would’ve enjoyed the experience.

      • X.A. Smith

        They certainly had their chance, didn’t they?

        • BJ

          She may have bumped a man from another sport, if I read that Hungary balances genders (or maybe they got to send another one because of her).

          • Rob

            And bumping another man would be bad because…?

          • BJ

            I didn’t say it was. But I would feel bad if Hungry cut someone who has worked their whole life to make it to the biggest stage for many of these sports.

        • Maybe. I’m guessing someone in the software industry in Silicon Valley has more means to get to World Cup events than someone in Hungary, but perhaps not.

          She was going to participate for Venezuela, but then dropped them. Her mother is from Venezuela.

          Country shopping by athletes doesn’t do much for me.

          • Jim in RF

            Wasn’t it Nick Punto who played for Italy in the WBC?

          • I don’t recall, but only because we’re not allowed to watch anything but the Americans on NBC Olympic coverage.

          • There are literally 4 different NBC channels covering the Olympics (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA). At anytime, most aren’t covering US athletes.

            You can also watch via the NBC sports app where you can pick and choose what sports you wish to watch.

            /Olympics nerd.

          • Nope. For people who don’t have cable, there is one.

          • I don’t have cable (Sling TV).

          • If you’ve cut the cord and aren’t paying for cable TV channels, you have one option.

          • Yes, you are correct.

          • Joseph

            Onan, “Sling” counts as ‘cable-TV’ in my book — its just ala-carte cable, instead of pre-bundled cable.

          • Yeah, you are correct.

          • X.A. Smith

            Yeah. I have to put the blame on the folks who let her in, though. My first thought was, “What a fun vacation she’s having.”

          • Jack

            Track and field is full of country shopping. We love watching the various African competitors competing for their “new” countries. Amazing how many Kenyans have competed for new countries over the years. (Only mentioning them since I used to live there and recognize the names and sometimes the actual people.)

      • jon

        Star trib had an article recently about the nigerian womans two person bobsled team (one of them grew up in Minnesota)…

        Same story, they got to compete because they met the minimum requirements for entry…

      • KTN

        perhaps, but nobody was stopping them, certainly not this women.

        There’s a women skiing on the World Cup, and competed last week in the slalom – Sarah Schleper. Sarah was a strong member of the USST, and skied on the World Cup for many years, with some podiums. Over the years, age and a couple of kids later, Sarah is off the pace a bit, and would no longer earn a spot with the USST.
        She did however, marry a Mexican national, and is now competing under the Mexican flag. I wonder if there are any native Mexicans who would also enjoy the opportunity taken by the American.
        Sarah had no chance of winning last week, or any week on the World Cup, not because she’s not a really good racer, but because there are so many younger girls who are just faster. That fact doesn’t take away from Sarah’s effort to compete, Same goes for Swaney.

  • X.A. Smith

    She’s the new Eddie the Eagle.

    • JonasGrumby

      That’s what I was thinking!

  • rallysocks

    >>Elizabeth Swaney’s motto might as well be, “somebody’s got to finish in last place.”<<

    Yay! My ability to always come in last FINALLY will pay off! Paris 2024!!!

  • BJ

    If there’s only 30 or so that even compete on a regular basis, wouldn’t she still be one of the best in the world?

    • wjc

      Not necessarily. There may be 200 or 2000 better in the U.S. alone, but lack the resources to go to World Cup events to qualify.

      The one thing you have to give her full points for is the amount of guts it takes to just drop into that halfpipe. Geez! That sucker is big and scary.

      • jon

        Watching everyone else go through the half pipe it certainly looks terrifying… watching her go through it didn’t seem that bad… I think I might be able to make it through such a thing and come out upright on the far end (though probably not with all the jumps she did along the way) …

        I think it’s fun to see what a “normal person” can manage on the same field as the olympic level folks.

        • Yeah, it looked pretty much like…. skiing down a hill without any possibility of running off the trail and into the woods. This could catch on.

          • Rob

            If there’s no chance of life-limiting injury, I ain’t interested in watching. : )

      • BJ

        For reference the 2018 season there were 6 World Cup events held before Olympics for free ski half pipe for women. 4 of them in the USA (1 Dec 2017, 3 Jan 2018), New Zealand had one in August 2017, China had one in January 2018. The 2017 season had 4 events (USA,France,Spain, Korea).

        Source: http://www.fis-ski.com/freestyle-skiing/halfpipe-slopestyle/events-and-places/calendar

  • Tyler

    I think the best part was how the announcers and producer were trying to provide commentary and slo-mo highlights of her run. Good for her!

    • Jeff

      They really built up the suspense! …is it enough to tempt the judges?

  • Gary F

    Now I’m now thinking of channeling some of my Luxembourger blood and trying out for the Luxembourg Olympic Trap/skeet team.

    • wjc

      Bon chance!

  • LieutenantLefse

    Reminds me of elementary school track and field, when I got first place in the boy’s jump rope race. And simultaneously last place, since I was the only boy to sign up for the event.

    • Rob

      I believe it was Jesus who said: “And the last shall be first.”

      • “It is easier to thread an American posing as a Hungarian through a half pipe than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

  • John


    1) Two years ago, while watching Michael Phelps win another gold medal, we had a discussion around how the Olympics (or at least NBC) should put one high school swimmer in the race for scale. (Pick, say, the middle swimmer from the state championship of any midwestern state – heck, just put a line on the screen showing how far behind that kid would be). It seems wish granted.

    2) I read a story a few years ago about a woman(?) who had competed in a bunch of different Olympics in different sports by identifying things that her country (USA?) didn’t compete well in (think recurve archery, ping pong, etc.) And I thought – good for her! Way to be better than any of the rest of us bother to be at something, and have a reason to see the world. This feels a little like that, except the internet is being itself and picking on someone who is not at home behind a keyboard. Also, I’ll wager she’s a whole lot better at it than 99% of the world. Probably even 95% of people who are into the sport.

    3) Bob is right – I don’t have cable or any paid sports subscriptions. It sucks as an American that all I can watch are highlight reels on NBC. I LOVE watching other country’s athletes compete in sports that get little coverage here (think biathalon, XC skiing, speed skating), but it’s not an option for me. I would have purchased a pass for an app if it were an option. As a result, I’ve watched virtually no Olympic coverage this year. I expect that trend to continue (not that I watch much TV anyways, but I would have made an effort).

  • Gary Leatherman

    Hey Minnesota! We can claim her as one of our own – apparently she attended Macalester – no word yet on if she actually graduated :-p