Elizabeth Swaney, an American from California with a master’s degree from Harvard, finessed her way onto the Hungarian Olympic team, and for that, she should be celebrated. If you’ve taken any sort of interest in the Olympic games, you’ve seen her run, where she manages to do the absolute basics and little else, riding up and down the edges of the halfpipe like a child on the bunny slopes. She’s certainly better than me at skiing, but to call her an Olympic level skier is a little ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t an inspiration.
She devoted two years of her life to attending events around the world representing Hungary as a skier, after many other failed attempts to enter other Olympic events. She would show up and do exactly as she did at the qualifiers, to ski and to not fall over. If she finished in the top 30, even in events where 30 entrants did not enter, she would receive points. She attended so many events over the last two years that she reached #34 in the world, which, after accounting for skiers with injuries and other factors, allowed her to qualify for the Olympics here in PyeongChang.
The minute her run was finished, the Twitter mob came out in force, calling her a disgrace to the Olympics itself. Not so fast, I say. This kind of story is what the Olympics is for! She’s been interviewed as saying that she had to finance her own trip to PyeongChang by working various odd jobs and anyone who takes that kind of time out and qualifies by legitimate means deserves the adulation that any other Olympian does. She belongs in the pantheon of other Olympians who were by no means any good at their sport, such as Michael Edwards or Eric Moussambini, both of whom are seen as inspirational stories in some sense, despite their own lack of ability. Hell, I was raised on Cool Runnings, where a team that had absolutely no chance of succeeding made the whole crowd stand up and cheer. The Jamaican bobsled team didn’t even finish their qualifying heat that year.
So why isn’t she being celebrated? Where’s the celebration? Maybe it’s because she didn’t go out there and fail spectacularly. When she finished, even the commentators were at a loss for words, though they kept their professionalism in refusing to mention the mechanism by which she had arrived. I suppose a lot of people feel like they’ve been duped after watching Swaney’s run, like they had fallen for some huckster’s gambit, like the wool had been pulled over their eyes, but there is no scam.
She qualified legitimately. Obviously, after this the rules will change, but she followed every rule and made it on to the Hungarian ski team by sheer willpower. All I see is a woman trying everything she can to make it on that stage, and by God, did she make it. She made it this far by doing two things, paying attention and not falling over. Pretty much what she did on her run, too. Huh.