The Olympic games combine athletes from all over the world, of all shapes and sizes and of diverse perspectives, but the common thread that binds them is that they come together in pursuit of athletic excellence.
Then there cam e Elizabeth Swaney.
Swaney, American-born, Harvard-educated, and based in San Francisco where she recruits software engineers, competed for Hungary in the women’s freestyle ski halfpipe qualifiers Monday. Though that’s using the word compete loosely.
Swaney doesn’t do any tricks except for the occasional 180, and gets little to no air on each run. Her strategy can be boiled down to this: She doesn’t fall. Despite two clean runs, Swaney came in 24th of 24 after a performance that was almost masterfully unspectacular. She scored a 31.40 out of 100.
“I didn’t qualify for finals so I’m really disappointed,” she said without a hint of irony, according to the Associated Press.
But even if she genuinely was bummed she didn’t advance, Swaney already accomplished a lot by getting to the Olympics in the first place. As it turns out, Swaney’s path to PyeongChang is a masterclass in finessing the Olympic qualifying system that is downright inspirational.
Swaney is 33 and has only been skiing since she was 25. It was then that she set out to make it to the Olympics, but quickly realized that making team USA would be an uphill battle, to put it lightly. First, Swaney competed for her mother’s native Venezuela before switching to team Hungary, the country her grandparents are from, in 2016 according to The Denver Post.
To qualify for the Olympic ski halfpipe competition, an athlete must consistently finish in the top 30 of World Cup events. The thing is, there are rarely 30 entries in those events, so Swaney was always able to make the cut.
“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,” longtime FIS ski halfpipe and slopestyle judge Steele Spence told the Post. “She would compete in them consistently over the last couple years and sometimes girls would crash so she would not end up dead last. There are going to be changes to World Cup quotas and qualifying to be eligible for the Olympics. Those things are in the works so technically you need to qualify up through the system.”
Due to a combination of injuries, limits on how many athletes can qualify from one country, and a Hungarian team rule that reallocates some spots on the Olympic team to balance the number of men and women, Swaney made it.
Swaney wanted to compete in the Olympics, and she made it happen.
The rules might be dated and bizarre, but this woman qualified by the book. So what if her run wasn’t the most spectacular and didn’t look like the others. She still had to ski up a giant wall without falling in order to do so. Doesn’t that count for something without adding in flips and twists with so many components they sound like a Jon Gruden play call? Player hating, last I checked, is generally frowned upon.
As it turns out, Swaney has set lofty goals for herself before. She unsuccessfully opposed Arnold Schwarzenegger for California governor when she was an undergraduate student at the University of California Berkeley. She holds a master’s degree in design studies from Harvard.
So maybe she can’t do them on the halfpipe. But no one can say Swaney doesn’t try big things.
French skier sent home
French skier Mathieu Faivre, the boyfriend of US skier Mikaela Shiffrin, was sent home from the Olympics for making critical remarks about his teammates after finishing seventh in the giant slalom Sunday.
Faivre was one of four French skiers to finish in the top seven, but he said he didn’t care much about that accomplishment because he had finished last among the group.
“If you only knew what I think about the group collective,” Faivre told Agence France-Presse after the race. “I’m here to race for myself only.”
His team’s response was to tell him to pack his things.
“Mathieu will return to France for disciplinary reasons,” David Chastan, director for French men’s skiing, told AFP on Monday. “He made remarks after the race that were not in the spirit of the team and will not be retained for the team event.”
Faivre wrote a post on Facebook Monday which he called a “mea culpa.”
“Skiing is an individual sport that is practiced as a team,” he wrote, translated from French. “However, when we are in the starting gate, only our individual race and our own performance are important. So yes, when it came time to give my feelings on my race, just 10 minutes after crossing the finish line, only my performance and failure were present.”
Faivre said he’d felt good about his race and was disappointed when he looked up and saw the result, admitted a tendency to be “hot-blooded,” and said that he felt proud to have represented France.
The dating game
When you want something done, get a mom to do it.
Even when that something is trying to get a date with an Olympian.
Sam Greisman, youngest son of Oscar-winning actor Sally Field, has not been shy about his crush on figure skater Adam Rippon, one of the media darlings of the PyeongChang Games. He’s tweeted poignantly about how it’s meant a lot to him to see an openly gay man competing and being himself on the Olympic stage, and hilariously about making sure those messages make it to Rippon some how. Greisman also threw in a marriage proposal.
His mom was fully on board.
Greisman tweeted a picture of a text message exchange with Field. His text was cut off, but it looked like it said, “lol and say what? To date me?? haha,” to which Field replied “Sam . . . he’s insanely pretty . . . Find a way.”
Then, Field retweeted it and tagged Rippon. “Yikes,” was Greisman’s reply. But he probably didn’t mind a little help.
No word yet from Rippon.