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The world’s most average skiier

Elizabeth Swaney is the hero the Olympics Need

Elizabeth Swaney has wanted to compete in the Olympic Games since she was 7 years old. This year in PyeongChang, Swaney represented Hungary while competing in the women’s ski halfpipe competition. However, Swaney’s performance stood out in particular due to its lack of impressive tricks, as she swooped from one side to the other with small bunny hops at the top of each end of the halfpipe. In fact, many Twitter users began questioning Swaney’s legitimacy in the Olympics before her run had even finished.

This year, 24 quota spots were available for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in women’s ski halfpipe. Each nation can send a maximum of four skiers to compete in the women’s halfpipe. Swaney would not have qualified for the Winter Games had she represented America, because six American skiers ranked inside the top 20 of the Olympic qualification standings—yet only the top four skiers were able to compete, even though more than four American athletes earned quota spots. Swaney, though born and raised in the US, was able to represent Hungary because her grandparents are Hungarian, and Hungary’s team did not meet its quota before adding Swaney.

In order to qualify for the women’s halfpipe event at the Olympics, a skier must meet only a couple requirements, such as finishing in the top 30 at a World Cup event and scoring a minimum number of FIS points. Swaney met those requirements because the field for women’s halfpipe is not very deep, so many World Cup events had fewer than 30 athletes competing. As long as she showed up and dropped in for a run, Swaney was guaranteed at least a top-30 finish and maybe a few FIS points. Swaney used very basic runs to get herself into position to qualify for the Olympics. She wouldn’t necessarily attempt any tricks, but she wouldn’t crash either. Some of the other competitors would crash, which knocked their score lower than Swaney’s.

Swaney, who has a bachelor’s from University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s from Harvard, is no stranger to challenging authority. As an undergrad, she ran and lost against Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor of California. To some, Swaney’s performance in the 2018 Winter Olympics represents the point of reference that Bill Murray’s tweet, “Every Olympic event should include one average person competing for reference,” calls for. And to those that have railed against Swaney’s presence in the Olympic Games, the exposure has earned her a sponsorship from Blue Point Brewing Company, who created a beer named after the Olympics.

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