American half-pipe skier who didn't perform a single trick gamed the system to qualify for the Olympics while representing Hungary

David Ramos/Getty ImagesElizabeth Swaney gamed the system to maker her Olympic dream a reality.
  • Elizabeth Swaney competed in the ladies’ ski half-pipe on Monday despite being unable to land any real tricks.
  • Swaney qualified for the Olympics through a loophole of sorts – athletes were required a number of top-30 finishes, so she would enter competitions with fewer than 30 athletes in the field, thus assuring the requirement would be met.
  • Swaney knows she isn’t on the same level as the top athletes in the competition but hopes her Olympic campaign will inspire others to take up the sport.

Elizabeth Swaney can’t land a trick beyond a simple 180 in the half-pipe, but that didn’t stop her from becoming an Olympic athlete.

On Monday, Swaney competed in the ladies’ ski half-pipe, coming in last place with a high score of 31.4 after two runs down the half-pipe.

Of course, Swaney’s qualification for the Olympics came more through attendance than performance.

Athletes must record a number of top-30 finishes to qualify for the half-pipe at the games, but with very few women competing in the event in the first place, Swaney was able to satisfy the requirement by entering competitions with fewer than 30 competitors.

As Jason Blevins at The Denver Post notes, Swaney travelled the globe exploiting this rule, tallying points toward her eventual Olympic debut.

“‘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,’ said longtime FIS ski halfpipe and slopestyle judge Steele Spence. ‘She would compete in them consistently over the last couple years and sometimes girls would crash so she would not end up dead last.'”

Swaney is American and originally competed for her mother’s native Venezuela. But later, she switched to representing Hungary, citing her grandparents’ heritage. Swaney has competed since 2013 but still hasn’t developed much of an aerial routine. She has gotten exceedingly proficient at staying upright through her runs – a trait that has helped her finish ahead of last place in a few of her competitions.

Take a look at the height she was getting during her Olympic runs.

SwaneyNBCSwaney got far less air than any of her competitors in the halfpipe.

That is the apex of her jump. You can watch the entirety of her run here.

According to Blevins, some of Swaney’s competitors are less than enthused by her entrance in the Olympics. But there are others who respect her commitment to qualification. “If you are going to put in the time and effort to be here, then you deserve to be here as much as I do,” the Canadian Cassie Sharpe said.

Swaney is far from the only athlete at the Winter Olympics who is far off the pace of the world-class athletes at the top of their sport. The cross-country skier German Madrazo, of Mexico, finished his race almost half an hour after Dario Cologna of Switzerland claimed his gold medal.

For her part, Swaney doesn’t consider herself in the same league as her fellow athletes in terms of skill; rather, she aims to spread a love of freestyle skiing to a wider audience.

“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,” she said before her final practice on Sunday.

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