When you tune into the Olympics, you usually expect to catch a glimpse of some of the most elite athletes that the world has to offer, even if it's in some pretty bizarre sports that you didn't even know existed. (Looking at you, curling and biathlon.)
But if you tuned into the qualifying portion of women's halfpipe skiing in Pyeongchang this week, you got an odd and confusing surprise while watching free skier Elizabeth Swaney. As she took her qualifying runs, it became clear that Swaney was zip codes away from an elite athlete.
Her qualifying runs were so mind-numbingly average that it was almost captivating -- as were the event announcers' attempts at taking her seriously.
So, you may be asking yourself ... exactly how does a skier that average and that boring make it all the way to Olympics?
The answer is a bit complicated, but it involves a little dedication and lot of circumvention. Swaney has been freestyle skiing for five years and her goal was to make it to the Olympics, even if she had to snake her way in. The 33-year-old American isn't stupid -- she has a graduate degree from Harvard -- and so she worked out a scheme to make her Olympic dreams come true, at least for one day.
Knowing that she likely would never have a chance at making the Winter Games while competing for a spot on the very-competitive United States team, Swaney instead decided to ski for Venezuela (her mother's home country) before switching over to represent Hungary, where her grandparents were born, in 2015.
Skiing for Hungary gave Swaney a better chance at meeting the International Ski Federation's requirements and qualifying for Olympic participation. All she needed to do was show up at a bunch of international events and complete her very basic runs without crashing and she would slowly score points and work her way up the rankings.
"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," said longtime FIS ski halfpipe and slopestyle judge Steele Spence, via the Denver 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."
Swaney kept her eye on the prize and, with some determination and a little bit of luck, it finally paid off. She qualified to compete at the Olympics. Here's more, via NBC.
This year, there were 24 quota spots available for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in women's ski halfpipe. But those spots don't automatically go to the best 24 skiers in the world. The maximum number of skiers that each nation can send to the Olympics for women's halfpipe is four, so a country like the U.S. — which had six skiers ranked inside the top 20 of the Olympic qualification standings — could only send their top four skiers, even though they had more than four athletes who earned quota spots.
So with countries like the U.S. having to forego their extra quota spots, some countries not using all their quota spots, and other athletes pulling out due to injury, the invite list made it all the way down to athlete No. 34 in the rankings: Elizabeth Swaney of Hungary.
As you'd imagine, plenty of legitimate (i.e. talented) Olympic athletes in South Korea are not exactly thrilled with Swaney making a mockery of the process and securing a "competitive" spot through technicalities. Plenty of other skiers who just missed the cut and are forced to watch from home likely aren't amused, either.
But, if you take an alternative perspective, Swaney's Olympic qualification can also be somewhat of an inspiration. She may not have the jaw-dropping athletic talent, but she had the brains and the determination to find a way to make it all the way to the Olympics. She strategized and she executed.
Ultimately, she was able to achieve the real American (or Hungarian?) dream: Scamming the system to achieve your life goals while doing the absolute bare minimum to get there.
Not all heroes wear medals.