Elizabeth Swaney: Hungarian Olympic body ‘rethinking’ selection process

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Elizabeth Swaney competed in halfpipe for Hungary at Olympics

But her display has raised questions about qualifying system

CNN  — 

One of the most talked about moments of the Winter Olympics was Elizabeth Swaney swooping steadily side to side on the halfpipe, achieving minimal air lifts and attempting no tricks whatsoever.

A clip of Swaney competing for Hungary on NBC’s Olympic Twitter feed has had 1.5 million views and prompted over 1,000 comments.

If you were left thinking “I could do that” – then you are probably not alone.

Elizabeth Swaney of Hungary competes during the halfpipe at PyeongChang 2018.
As well as being an Olympian, Swaney has degrees from Berkeley and Harvard.

The furore surrounding Swaney’s performance has ensured that the Hungarian Olympic Committee is “rethinking” its nomination procedures.

“Elisabeth Swaney qualified according to the rules and it is not in our remit to give an opinion on the qualification system of a sport,” HOC’s presidential advisor and communications chairman Molnár-Bánffy Kata told CNN Sport.

“However, we, the Hungarian Olympic Committee, have to learn the lessons from this case.”

The 33-year-old Swaney says she’s “honored, and humbled” to be an Olympian, but her Instagram feed has a number of negative comments, many criticizing the way she qualified. Some went as far as to say she “scammed” her way into the Olympics.

“You’re not even a skier,” one user wrote. “You only picked up skiing since you knew you could game the system. Congrats on your 15 seconds of shame.”

Meanwhile, a user on Twitter wrote: “The Elizabeth Swaney story isn’t clever. It’s sad.

“She’s a scam artist with clearly a lot of free time. The Olympic qualifying system needs to be fixed. Two Americans, top 20 in the world, didn’t make it … but an imposter repping Hungary did.”

However, the 33-year-old Swaney – who in 2009 completed a master’s degree in real estate studies at Harvard University – did receive messages of support on social media, as well.

“A life well lived isn’t about saying you were the best at anything, but rather saying you lived the experience of your heart’s desire. Congratulations and best of luck with where your heart takes you!”

Another defended her against the criticism commenting, “She didn’t snake her way into the Olympics she just grabbed the opportunity. Maybe judge the qualification process instead of her.”

Last week Swaney directly addressed the criticism.

“I never had a plan to do the run I did,” Swaney told NBC’s Today. “I wanted to do more than that, so it wasn’t a strategy. I always try to give my all.”

She added: “The goal has always been to incorporate [flips] into the halfpipe. I’m just not comfortable landing the water tricks on snow yet. I’m just trying to figure out a way to cross that bridge.”

‘The field is not that deep’

Although US-born Swaney represented Venezuela in freestyle skiing at World Cup events between 2013 and 2015, she was eligible to represent Hungary through her mother, according to the International Olympic website.

So just how did Swaney qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics?

“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,” FIS ski halfpipe and slopestyle judge Steele Spence told 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.”

Meanwhile the HOC says it plans to consult on how best to pick athletes for future big events.

“We must consider rethinking our nomination procedures,” said the HOC’s presidential advisor and communications chairman Kata.

“We shall be doing this, with the assistance of the appropriate experts, in the near future. There are numerous international examples of practice that differ from the one we apply, and we shall be examining these.”

The IOC has defended Swaney’s participation.

“There is a proper qualification system and we will keep that, but we also need to leave the door open to universality. That is what separates this event from a normal sporting event,” said the IOC’s Mark Adams.

The concept of “universality” is perhaps no better embodied than by Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, who captured British hearts at the Calgary Games of 1988.

Edwards switched from downhill skiing to ski jumping, allowing him the opportunity to fulfill his dream to become an Olympian.

OBERSTDORF, GERMANY - DECEMBER 29:  Former Olympian Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards attends a show jumping event on day 2 of the Four Hills Tournament Ski Jumping event at Schattenberg-Schanze on December 29, 2013 in Oberstdorf, Germany.  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images,)
The underdog story of Eddie the Eagle
01:16 - Source: CNN

He’s not the only athlete to have used his talent by switching sports.

Simidele Adeagbo narrowly missed out on the opportunity to make the US Track and Field team, but for 2018, she found her niche as Nigeria’s first female skeleton Olympian.

“Competing in the Olympics has been one of the most inspiring and proudest moments of my life,” said Simidele Adeagbo on her official website.

“It was a dream that started a long time ago and to be able fulfill that dream for myself, for Nigeria, and for future Olympians was so much more than I could have asked for.”

Simi Adeagbo sketch new

“It’s never been about the money’

Competing in a Summer or Winter Games can be costly and elite athletes are usually funded by their Olympic association.

Hungarian journalist Gergley Marosi tweeted that the Hungarian Ski Federation had said that Swaney’s preparation to the Olympics was self funded.

Swaney’s crowdfunding page asked the public to support her journey and helped raise $8,000.

Edwards too, had to raise money – but during a time where there was no internet.

He worked as a plasterer and regularly saved on his expenditure and was even known to have slept in a disused Finnish hospital to save money on expensive accommodation.

But, if you’re a venture capitalist and you are thinking about trying to reach the Olympics, money’s probably less of an issue.

Venture capitalist Paul Bragiel, who just missed qualifying for cross-country skiing in the 2014 Sochi games, started training nine months before the qualifiers, but as a co-founder for start up companies in Silicon Valley, he was able to self fund his flights and training sessions more easily than his competitors.

Bragiel didn’t realize his Olympic dream, so instead set up a foundation – with the help of Colombian skier Sebastian Uprimny, who leads a year-round program for potential youth skiers in Colombia – to help athletes such as Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua reach the Winter Olympics.

“It’s never been about the money here,” says Bragiel. “It’s about letting people achieve their lifetime goals and compete at the highest level.

“I’m a huge fan of the Olympic spirit and the crazy fact is, the average Olympic athlete, in order to qualify for the Olympics, ends up $50,000 in debt.”