Elizabeth Swaney isn’t afraid to dream big. In 2007 while a university student, Swaney decided to run for Governor of California. Taking on a formidable opponent in Arnold Schwarzenegger. She was unsuccessful in her bid but Swaney kept dreaming and set her sights on becoming a winter Olympian.
Trying It Out.
Swaney attempted Bobsled but was told she was too short. She turned to Skeleton and Aerial Skiing but eventually decided to make her Olympic mark in the sport of halfpipe skiing.
Half-pipe skiing involves skiing through a half-pipe while performing various tricks such as flips, spins, and grabs. Elizabeth Swaney couldn’t do any of those but we’ll worry about that later.
There was little chance Swaney would be selected to compete in half-pipe skiing for the United States where she was born. The United States has 325 million people most of whom can do half-pipe skiing better than she can.
Swaney decided to compete for the nation of Hungary, her grandparent's country of birth. Hungary is a nation of just under 10 million people giving Swaney a fighting chance of earning Olympic selection.
The question remains how is Elizabeth Swaney going to go the Olympics to compete in halfpipe skiing when she can’t do the sport?
There were two criteria for Olympic selection:
• The world’s top 24 skiers will be selected but only a maximum of four from any one nation.
• Athletes must place in the top 30 in a recognised halfpipe competition.
These look to be difficult criteria to meet; especially if you can’t do half pipe. Swaney was undeterred and decided to enter a half pipe competition. Swaney went to New Zealand, entered a half pipe competition, and came in 26th place.
How did manage that when she can’t even perform the simplest of halfpipe tricks? Swaney started at one end, she skied to the other, she didn’t fall over, she performed no tricks and she came last. Importantly for Swaney, there were only 26 competitors in the competition.
This fulfils one of the two criteria Finishing in the top 30 in a recognised half pipe competition. But, how would Swaney get her ranking up high enough to be one of the twenty-four athletes at the Olympic Games?
When Swaney finished 26th in New Zealand she earned herself 5 ranking points, not many but it was a start. Swaney figured if she needed more points she simply needed to enter more competitions.
So Swaney went to Canada and came 21st, she went to South Korea finishing 26th, finishing last and earning herself valuable points. 24th in France, 21st in Spain, and 13th in China, how did she manage it?
Get Those Points
There were 15 competitors and two of them crashed out, Swaney never crashed because she didn’t perform any tricks. Swaney also competed all around America accruing points and improving her ranking.
As the Olympics drew closer Swaney found herself ranked 34th in the world. Consider Elizabeth Swaney’s incredible achievement; she was ranked 34th in the world for a sport she couldn’t even do! 34th in the world is close to the top 24 but not quite close enough for selection.
Some technicalities began to run in Swaney’s favour. America had 6 skiers in the top 24 but was only allowed to send their best 4. Swaney was smart enough to avoid that by competing for Hungary.
No Injuries No Worries
To assist Swaney further some of the world's top 24 were injured. Half-pipe skiing is a dangerous sport; especially for those who perform tricks. As a result of technicalities and injuries, the Olympic committee kept going further down the list. Eventually they found themselves inviting Elizabeth Swaney of Hungary to the Olympic Games. Elizabeth take a bow!
What a remarkable achievement. She achieved her dream of going to the Olympics in a sport she couldn’t do for a country she doesn’t live in. Elizabeth Swaney went to the 2018 winter games she started at one end, she skied to the other, performed no tricks, and finished in 24th place. There were 2922 athletes at the 2018 winter games and Elizabeth Swaney was surely the most unlikely of them all.
Travis Barnes lives in central Victoria with his wife and two daughters. He is a contributor for Christian Today and a sportswriter.