They say she used a loophole to get into the Winter Olympics in Korea.
I say she used ambition, hustle, and grit (and yes, she revealed some absurdity in the process).
Meet Elizabeth Swaney, a 34-year-old software engineer recruiter from California, a graduate of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design–heck, a woman who’d reportedly never tried skiing until she was 25–who can now add Olympic athlete to her resume.
More to the point, she can add it to her LinkedIn profile.
Swaney is an American, but not a U.S. Olympic athlete; she had no chance of making Team USA. Instead, she competed in women’s freeski half pipe skiing for Hungary, a country where she was able to claim citizenship through her maternal grandparents.
And she earned her entry by learning the rules of the sport and adhering to them in a way people didn’t expect.
Making the Olympic cut required finishing in the top 30 in enough World Cup skiing half pipe events; Swaney achieved this by traveling the globe and competing in many events that had fewer than 30 participants.
Sure, perhaps “competing” should be in quotes, because Swaney doesn’t actually know how to do any tricks on the snow, in a sport that’s all about tricks. (She apparently can do quite a few tricks while training in a pool–see the video at the end of this story–but obviously “training in a pool” is not exactly an Olympic event).
In fact, if you watch her Olympic qualifying run here, well, let’s just say I’ll bet half the people reading this article will think they could could do better. She came in dead last.
So what? I don’t think that’s the point. I think it’s more about the things she went through to get to this point, and what those experiences will say to people viewing her in other contexts.
I’m serious about her LinkedIn profile. The mere fact that Swaney, who is still in Korea, took the time to update her profile picture to show her as an Olympian, tells me something.
And, the second entry in her profile is something few others can duplicate:
“Current World Cup Freestyle Ski Athlete & Olympic Hopeful. Former International Skeleton Athlete,” 2006-present, 12 yrs.
Twelve years. This is a woman who apparently tried at least three sports–and according to some reports, three countries–in order to achieve her dream of participating in the Olympics.
(Besides the U.S. and Hungary, Swaney once competed for Venuzuela. As she explained on a crowdfunding site nearly five years ago, she had citizenship in that now-troubled country through her mother.)
That’s the kind of line on a profile that makes people take notice, guarantees you’ll have something to say during small talk, and suggests an uncommon level of resourcefulness and determination.
“It is an honor to compete at the Olympics and I am really excited to compete among other amazing women from across the world,” Swaney said. “I want to show others that freestyle skiing is possible and it is never too late to get into this sport … I hope this can be a platform to inspire others.”
Not everyone loves that Swaney figured out this way to make it to the Olympics without being a true Olympic-level athlete.
Organizers and judges in the event say they’re mulling changes so that her strategy can’t be repeated in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. And the people on this Reddit thread weren’t too happy.
However, the elite athletes in her event themselves don’t seem to mind.
“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,” the top-ranking athlete after qualifying, Cassie Sharpe of Canada, said in her defense.
I should mention: I’ve never met Swaney. I’ve tried to reach her via Facebook and LinkedIn (of course). Of course, she’s in Korea right now, probably having a good time in the Olympic Village even though her games are over. (But she can also contact me if she’s up for an interview.)
What do you think: Resourceful and impressive athlete, or a less-admirable loophole-finder? Let us know in the comments below.
Meantime, here’s Swaney’s training video. Again, “training in a pool” isn’t exactly an Olympic event, but it does look like a lot of fun.