As Canadians spent Tuesday trying to regain their composure after the smouldering routine by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, it’s easy to forget that not all heroes wear skates.
For some, they don’t even have to be very good.
There’s still a ways to go, but it seems safe to predict that the gold medal for underachieving at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will go to Elizabeth Swaney.
If you check your program, Swaney is officially listed as a Hungarian Olympic athlete. If you check your sense of decorum, she’s an astute student of selfishly interpreting loopholes.
Swaney, who is from Oakland, Calif., dropped into the halfpipe Monday in the freestyle skiing event won by Canada’s Cassie Sharpe. While Sharpe and her competitors took advantage of big air to show off all kinds of ridiculous spins and jumps, Swaney gingerly made her way down the course, barely reaching the lip of the pipe on each pass before slowly gliding to the other side.
Now, I’ve never seen one of these halfpipes in person. The impression I get from those who have is that, as with alpine skiing, television flattens out the whole thing, failing to properly convey the overwhelming impression that anyone engaging in such activities has a steep, icy death wish. That being said, Swaney looked like she was creeping down the beginner slope for the first time.
As far as I know, there are no participation ribbons at the Olympics, but nobody will be able to take away the fact that Swaney was there.
Still, there’s something that seems more calculating than heartwarming about her path to the Games, especially compared with the unlikely stories of ski jumper Eddie the Eagle or the Jamaican bobsled team.
Swaney’s grandparents are from Hungary, according to the BBC, and she qualified for the Olympics by using her low-risk back-and-forth strategy to accumulate points in enough international competitions where a few athletes would inevitably fall and fail to complete the course. Factor in a quota system the International Olympic Committee uses to encourage participation from a broad range of countries, and this is the result.
Somehow, it doesn’t seem similar to the Canadians on the South Korean men’s hockey team who made years-long commitments to compete at this level.
At any rate, it looks like Swaney’s having a great trip.
“Stoked to be watching so many amazing women at Ladies' #skihalfpipe finals now,” she said late Monday on her Instagram account.
“So #blessed to have spent the last few years on the road with them and inspired by their courage, perseverance, strength, and kindness.”
And you can’t say Swaney isn’t an inspiration. Mitchell Byars, a Colorado-based journalist not originally from snow country, now has a plan.
“I am going to use this loophole in 2022 to be the first Hawaiian to ski in the Winter Olympics,” Byars said on Twitter.
“Yes, I will do it in jeans. I will probably crash. And I will become an Olympic legend.”