How One Woman Scammed Her Way Into the 2018 Olympics


This video was made possible by Audible. Get a free audiobook when you sign up at audible.com/HAI. Talent, athleticism, mastery, greatness—from
Usain Bolt’s world-record runs to Keri Strug’s legendary landings, these are the qualities
that define the great Olympic stories….. but not this one, so let’s try again. Ineptitude, clumsiness, mediocrity, technicalities—from
Ryan Lochte pretending he was mugged to Boris Johnson doing whatever this is, these are
the qualities that define the story of Elizabeth Swaney: a true Olympic zero. The Olympics are all about representation:
people of all different colors, creeds, backgrounds, and nationalities can be seen competing together
on the Olympic stage, but throughout its history, the Olympics have always failed to represent
one key group: people who are bad at sports. However, two decades ago, in 2018, through
the heroic actions of one woman, that all changed. Elizabeth Swaney was born in 1984 in Oakland,
California, and from a young age, showed stunning mediocrity in sports. Her first attempt at making the Olympics came
in 2014, when she tried to qualify for the Sochi games in women’s skeleton and freestyle
skiing. She hoped to be on Team Venezuela, representing
the country where her mother was born, but in the end, she was on Team “Did Not Qualify,”
and represented the couch where she sat and watched the actual athletes on TV. But Elizabeth Swaney decided she wasn’t
going to let something as silly as being a bad athlete stop her from competing in the
Olympics, and so, she identified a sport that had minimal competition: the women’s freestyle
skiing halfpipe, which at the time only had about 30 or so elite international competitors. 30 people just isn’t a lot; in fact, there
are more people named Elizabeth Swaney than there were women’s halfpipe skiers for Elizabeth
Swaney to compete with—at least according to the very cursory Facebook search I did
so I could write that. But still, it wasn’t going to be easy: you
see, because of their elitist commitment to having “good athletes” compete, the Olympic
Committee sets minimum requirements for each sport. For the halfpipe, there were two: First, that
the skier has finished in the top 30 at either a FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup or the FIS Freestyle
World Ski Championships. FIS, by the way, stands for Federation Internationale
de Ski, which I believe is French for “Fedora Interpreters of Skittles,” or maybe not;
I don’t have the money for fact checkers. The second requirement is that the skier must
have earned least 50.00 total FIS points, which are handed out in each FIS competition
based on how a skier places—100 points for first, 80 for second, 60 for third, all the
way down to a single, lonely point for thirtieth. In order to meet these qualifications, Elizabeth
Swaney decided that she would earn her placement and points in the most glorious and exciting
way possible—by doing nothing at all, because here’s the thing you have to know about
the skiing halfpipe: people fall a lot. Like a lot a lot. Like, “every other halfpipe run looks like
an ‘epic fails’ vine compilation” a lot. So, by not attempting any tricks at all, and
simply finishing each run without falling down, she’d be able to notch a score, and
thus beat opponents who had fallen on all their runs. Combine that with the fact that several competitions
had fewer than thirty competitors to start with, and Swaney was able to slowly rack up
FIS points—enough to not only surpass the 50-point minimum, but to become the 34th ranked
women’s freestyle halfpipe skier in the world. However, there was one final hurdle—there
were only 24 spots for women’s halfpipe in the Olympics, but the good news was, while
Swaney may not be able to jump over actual hurdles, clearing logistical hurdles is her
specialty. Her solution was to game the Olympic quota
system by representing not the US, but her grandparents’ birthplace of Hungary. You see, in an attempt to encourage participation
from as many countries as possible, the Olympics limits each country to 26 competitors across
all freestyle skiing events—of which, there are fourteen: moguls, aerials, ski cross,
half-pipe, slopestyle, big air, and ballet, with each split into men’s and women’s
divisions. Lucky for Swaney, the US had 33 skiers qualify,
and Canada had 32—which according to my math are both more than 26. That meant both had to leave some skiers behind,
including three women’s freestyle half-pipers. That put Swaney at 31st, which, combined with
seven injuries from other top competitors—injuries that I’m totally not accusing Elizabeth
Swaney of causing—led to just enough dropouts to edge Swaney into 24th and onto the Olympic
stage in Pyeongchang. Now I’m going to be honest: as much as I
desperately want to, I cannot show you Swaney’s run, because the Olympics is very into copyright
and I am very into not being sued by the Olympics, but you should go and watch it, because it
is truly a thing of beauty. At the Olympics, in front of the entire world,
Elizabeth Swaney did exactly what she had always done: nothing. As baffled commentators tried to make sense
of what was happening, Swaney skied up the side of the halfpipe, and then went straight
back down—no jumps, no flips, no double McTwist 160 Flippy Baconator McFlurry With
Fries… her one trick, if you could even call it that, was a half spin while about
a foot above the ground, a move about as difficult as hitting a golf ball into the ocean. In the end, Swaney finished with a score of
31.4 out of 100, landing in a distant last place behind the next competitor who managed
to score a 45 despite falling down on both attempts, but in honor of Swaney making it
to the Olympics at all, I right now am offering her a prize far greater than a gold medal:
a free audiobook when she signs up for Audible using the link audible.com/HAI. In fact, I’ll go ahead and extend that offer
to all of you, just because that’s the kind of cool guy I am, and might I even recommend
using that deal to check out an audiobook about actually good Olympic athletes, Daniel
James Brown’s incredible The Boys in the Boat. It’s maybe the best piece of non-fiction
writing about the Olympics ever, telling the story of the eight-man US crew team at the
1936 Berlin Olympics. It’s got drama and racing and defeating
Nazis and it’s awesome, I promise. If that isn’t your style—even though it
should be because it rocks—Audible definitely has something for you: not only fantastic
audiobooks, but a ton of other incredible spoken-word content, from podcasts to guided
wellness programs to theatrical performances to comedy, plus exclusive Audible Originals
you can’t get anywhere else. So sign up at audible.com/HAI, or text HAI
to 500-500 to get a free Audiobook, plus two free Audible originals.

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