Elizabeth Swaney — the US-born freestyle skier competing for Hungary in PyeongChang who sparked a conversation about who deserves to go to the Olympics after her much-talked-about halfpipe performance — has words for those who say she shouldn’t have had a spot at the Games.
Swaney, who finished last in the halfpipe, completed her run but did not attempt the dizzying jumps and tricks the event is known for, prompting some to question how she was able to participate. But the Harvard grad doesn’t agree with the critics.
“It’s very strange to hear that I took a spot from someone else,” Swaney, who got her start in skiing about eight years ago, said in an interview with the Globe on Thursday. “That’s not the case at all, that’s really unfounded.”
Swaney said a lot of the criticism seemed to be coming from those who aren’t experts in her sport, and she’s received nothing but support from those she’s competing against in PyeongChang.
“The people that are experts on whether or not I should be there are my fellow women competitors,” she said. “I haven’t read or heard anything negative from them. Some have personally come up to me and offered encouragement.”
Each country is allowed to send up to four skiers for the women’s ski halfpipe event, according to NBC, meaning that while there may have been skiiers world-wide ranked higher than Swaney in her event, her rankings qualified her for participation on the Hungarian team through a combination of factors, including some athletes pulling out due to injury.
Swaney, who is Hungarian on her mother’s side, competed in a number of qualifying events to make it to the Olympics, including World Cups in China and New Zealand. But it was only on Jan. 24, less than three weeks ahead of the Opening Ceremony, that she found out she’d be made it into this year’s Games.
Within days, she was on a plane to Budapest, and then it was on to South Korea.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling to make it into the Olympics, it got pretty close at the end,” she said.
It was certainly a long road for the 33-year-old. Before taking up skiing in Park City, Utah, she competed in skeleton for Venezuela and dabbled in rowing. She once tried out for the Oakland Raiders cheerleading team and even ran for governor of California at 19.
Speaking about her performance in PyeongChang, where she came in last among 24 competitors, Swaney said she tried her best in her event but felt she could have done better.
“I feel like I’m never satisfied with my half pipe runs,” she said.
She said she was pleased to complete the runs but wishes she had gotten higher out of the pipe.
“I know I can physically do it,” she said, citing the need for more confidence.
But as the Games wind down, Swaney says she’s looking forward to cheering on her Hungarian teammates in the remaining ski events and isn’t thinking about what comes next.
“I‘m just going to take it one day at a time,” she said. “I’m not really sure what’s going to happen in the next four years.”Christina Prignano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.