PYEONGCHANG – Controversy surrounds Olympic athlete Elizabeth Swaney. It seems that the American halfpipe skier with Hungarian roots massaged the system to make her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang this year.
Her utterly uninspiring qualifying run left announcers baffled. Obtaining only inches of air on each run up the pipe lip made this viewer wonder if any average female skier could make it to Olympics.
No one can argue that her Olympic bib was not legitimately earned. The 33-year-old American did not break any rules to make it to the games. But, due to quotas within the Olympic qualifying system, athletes who could easily outperform her were left ineligible.
Each country is only allowed to enter four athletes into the women’s halfpipe Olympic event. The U.S., for example, had six skiers ranked in the top 20 in the world. However, due to the quota, Team USA could only send the top four. This left two athletes, both ranked above Swaney overall, unable to compete in the Olympics. Instead, they got to watch Swaney bunny hop from side to side in Korea from their couches back in the U.S.
Swaney skirted the U.S. quotas by using her grandparents’ lineage, both Hungarian, to compete in halfpipe under the Hungarian flag. This is not an unusual move; a lot of athletes opt to compete by representing countries they have never lived in.
Since the women’s halfpipe event contains a small pool of athletes, Swaney simply needed to show up to and have clean, mediocre runs in qualifying events. Slowly, she racked up enough points to rank high enough for an Olympic bid. Athletes hucking bigger tricks and pushing the boundaries of the sport would fall. Overall, she did not rank last in every event and accrued enough points to qualify for the Olympics.
In the end, due to injuries, countries that had to leave athletes at home due to the quota system, and countries unable to fill the quota, Swaney, ranked 34th in the world, snatched a chance at the Olympic spotlight.
The University of California-Berkeley and Harvard graduate funded her dreams through crowd-sourcing. This isn’t her first cheeky move. Back when she was 19, Swaney attempted to run for governor of California and was beat by Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to AP notes, she has only been skiing for eight years, picking up the sport after she failed to qualify for the women’s skeleton event.
Whichever side of the fence you sit on with Swaney’s controversial Olympic debut—did her competing give young athletes hope for fulfilling their Olympic dreams or did she bite her thumb at the best athletes in the world who have trained for years to complete at this elite level?—the process for selecting Olympic athletes in this event is under evaluation. Changes are yet to be seen, but do you think the quota system should go? Did Swaney deserve to compete?
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