Among the hordes of world-class athletes at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, one name seemed a little out of place: Elizabeth Swaney, the 33-year old Hungarian halfpipe skier who completed her Olympic runs with a handful of simple alley-oops. Swaney has come under immense criticism for her lacklustre performance, but she has also garnered praise for following her dreams. The McGill Tribune remains divided on the polarizing park rat.
Elizabeth Swaney is good
All Elizabeth Swaney wanted was to be an Olympian. In a run intentionally devoid of many of the difficult tricks her competitors completed, her dreams came true, as she slowly-but-surely made her way down the halfpipe. Swaney qualified fair and square—and therefore had every right to be in PyeongChang as an Olympic athlete and should be treated and appreciated as such.
Beyond rightfully earning her spot, Swaney’s competition accepted her with open arms–their tricks look better with her around. The other Olympians in her event didn’t care that she was there.
“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,” Canadian gold medallist Cassie Sharpe said of Swaney.
She has a point. Swaney’s work ethic is exceeded only by her fellow Olympians. Even if she cannot perform ridiculous stunts like Sharpe, it still took dedication to do what Swaney has done. It wasn’t easy to consistently travel the world, work with coaches, compete in qualifying tournaments—and not fall down, which was critical to her success—over the past two years. If it didn’t take Olympic-level talent to get to PyeongChang, it still took Olympic-level dedication.
Furthermore, Swaney was a welcome addition because she helped bring Olympic athletic brilliance to full display: Her amateur runs provided a point of comparison to those of the other Olympians. At the peak of competition, the slightest misstep can keep an athlete off the podium. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what separates great athletes from one another when everyone is so consistently amazing. Swaney’s presence provided viewers with the ultimate frame of reference—that of a merely decent skier. Some Olympic spectators like to say they can replicate the athletes’ works without much difficulty, but having Swaney around showed those people they’re wrong.
Swaney can ski, and she can ski well. Her spot in PyeongChang was the result of hard work and dedication. Even if she’s not on the same level as her fellow Olympians skills-wise, she deserves respect—and perhaps even appreciation—for the frame of reference she provided for couch potatoes around the world.
I hate Elizabeth Swaney
Elizabeth Swaney has pulled off the world’s most expensive prank. Exploiting loose Olympic qualifying guidelines, and taking advantage of loopholes like her grandparents’ Hungarian citizenships, the 33-year-old American-born Harvard graduate competed in the freestyle skiing women’s halfpipe. Her qualification strategy was simple: More skilled skiers sometimes fall while executing complex tricks, but by avoiding stunts altogether, Swaney maintained a mediocre score high enough to beat those silly enough to try. Her predictably weak Olympic performance has garnered internet acclaim—Swaney is a skier who is “just like us,” the most relatable athlete among a field of superhuman competitors. However, the Olympics aren’t an episode of Seinfeld. They don’t need to be relatable—their inspiration comes not from the idea that anyone can simply do it, but the hope that anyone can do it if they try hard enough.
If Swaney’s run is supposed to be some sort of societal commentary on the stock we put into arbitrary athletic prowess, then she lacks the self-awareness to effectively pull off that critique. Instead, Swaney’s Olympic journey was wrought with earnestness and indignation. She was consistently offended in interviews by the implication that she is any less talented than her competition.
“I have all the skills that I need to be a great competitor at the World Cup level,” Swaney said in an interview with Squawk on the Street. “I just haven’t been comfortable enough yet to land those tricks on snow.”
I, too, am smart enough to get a 4.0. I just haven’t chosen to study yet.
Swaney’s Olympic journey is performance-art-gone-wrong, some sort of meta-commentary on a society so high on entitlement and undeserved self-esteem that they believe anyone can, and should, do anything: A reality TV star can be President, a software engineer recruiter can be an Olympian. Or maybe the takeaway is that talent doesn’t matter, so long as you have the cash to buy unsponsored ski equipment and a flight to South Korea. Neither interpretation is particularly worthwhile. In her time in PyeongChang, Swaney’s presence made a mockery of athletes who spend their lives training.
More importantly, she was boring. Just as she glided down the mountain without even attempting a jump or flip, Swaney’s journey to the Olympics was without tumult or perseverance. Nothing is less interesting than watching someone do nothing on TV simply because she can.
Editor’s pick: We hate Elizabeth Swaney
Swaney’s Olympic runs were unremarkable, and she’s been attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. Fans should turn their eyes to someone more deserving and let Swaney’s alley-oops fade into the background.