Winter Olympics: Elizabeth Swaney's 'worst' halfpipe triggers qualification rethink

Elizabeth Marian Swaney, of Hungary, runs the course during the women's halfpipe qualifying at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics Source: AAP

Hungary's Olympic Committee is considering changes to its selection procedures after Elizabeth Swaney's halfpipe performance went viral.

The Hungarian Olympic Committee will consider changing its selection procedures after skier Elizabeth Swaney’s halfpipe performance went viral with many fans wondering why an athlete of such limited ability was competing at the Games.

Swaney, born in the United States but representing Hungary in Pyeongchang, completed two runs in qualifying for the ski halfpipe on Monday.

The 33-year-old, however, did not attempt a trick more complicated than a simple alley-oop when a skier rotates 180 degrees or more in the uphill direction.

She finished bottom of the standings after two basic runs left her more than 40 points behind the 12th-placed qualifier for the final.

After raising funds through online donation websites to help fuel her Olympic ambitions, Swaney qualified for Pyeongchang due to the sheer volume of competitions she took part in.

Needing to consistently finish in the top 30 at World Cup events to make it to South Korea, Swaney persisted with easy runs, sometimes not even attempting tricks, to make sure she did not fall and always recorded a score.

Some commentators and social media users, however, questioned whether Swaney’s performance lowered the standard and integrity of the Olympics.

“We, the Hungarian Olympic Committee, have to learn the lessons from this case, and we must consider rethinking our nomination procedures,” a Hungarian team spokesman told Reuters via email.

“We shall be doing this, with the assistance of the appropriate experts, in the near future,” the spokesman added.

Swaney said she will reflect on her Olympic experience before deciding on her future.

"I didn't qualify for the finals, so I'm really disappointed with that. But I worked really for several years to achieve this," Swaney replied when asked about her emotions after competing at an Olympics.

"I have been focussing on my Olympic experience but also on the halfpipe here and trying to go higher each time and getting more spins in." 

Swaney says she qualified to represent Hungary through her maternal grandparents after previously competing for Venezuela in other winter sports before switching her allegiance again in 2016 to prepare for Pyeongchang.

A Harvard graduate who once ran against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the race to be California governor, Swaney only started skiing at 25 and has been driven ever since in her quest to compete at an Olympics.

Her best finish came at Secret Garden in China when she finished 13th out of 15 athletes while a majority of her Olympic rivals were competing in the US Grand Prix at Copper Mountain or on the Dew Tour.

However, Swaney still hopes to inspire others who might be intimidated by the prospect of skiing up and down the steep walls of the halfpipe.

"It is an honour to compete at the Olympics and I am really excited to compete among other amazing women from across the world," Swaney said.

"I want to show others that freestyle skiing is possible and it is never too late to get into this sport, and to help others to dream and to progress the sport in Hungary.

"I hope this can be a platform to inspire others," she said.

If the watching fans and media were left bemused by Swaney's runs, her competitors were more supportive of her presence at the Olympics.

"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," said Canada's Cassie Sharpe, who qualified in first place with the two highest-scoring runs.

France's Marie Martinod, who qualified in second, said she had no ill-feelings towards Swaney for her participation.

"I am a super open-minded person," she said. "This is why the Olympics are so special."

Swaney's performances may have disgruntled some but she was unconcerned by any negativity towards her intentions.

"(People doubting me) actually motivates me to improve more," she added. "I worked really hard to come here and there are only 24 women in the world that could be in this final. So I use this as motivation."


Source: Reuters - SBS

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