Freeski Halfpipe

The Olympics' Humdrum Halfpipe Hero Appreciates the Haters

Elizabeth Swaney's become a sensation for a lackluster performance seemingly devoid of any tricks — though that's not how she sees it

The skier who captivated the internet with an Olympic halfpipe run that seemed devoid of any tricks doesn't have an apology to the legions of people upset that she competed in the 2018 Winter Games.

What she does have is appreciation.

"I try to take every comment, whether it's positive or negative, and try to build that into my life as something constructive that I can work on, so I thank them for their time," Elizabeth Swaney said in an interview on the "Today" show in Pyeongchang, days after her lackluster performance became a sensation.

Video of her first run went viral. Where other athletes spin and flip their way down the hill to impress the judges, Swaney bunny hopped up the halfpipe, barely cresting the walls. She reached for her skis on one jump, and on another broke up the monotony by turning the opposite way, up the hill instead of down.

Reaction ranged from "Who does she think she is?" to "She's just like me," sometimes all in one. "worst. olympian. ever. I LOVE HER," one person tweeted.

Swaney defended her performance in the interview, saying "it was strange to hear that I did one trick or zero tricks" since she managed two alley-oops and a 360 in the second run. Her scores bear out that the second run was better than the first: she improved from a 30.00 to a 31.40. (Compare that to the top score in qualifying, 93.40.)

"I actually always try to give my best in the halfpipe," Swaney said.

Swaney's grandparents are from Hungary, and the Californian qualified for halfpipe as a Hungarian athlete. She had to complete a series of try-out events to rack up enough points to make it to Pyeongchang, too.

This wasn't her first attempt at qualifying for the Olympics — she tried skeleton for her mother's native Venezuela, too, according to "Today." While training for skeleton in Utah, she reportedly caught the skiing bug after noticing water ramps nearby. At the University of California at Berkeley, she was a coxswain on the men's rowing team.

Swaney's big dreams have also extended to politics, including a run for governor of California when she was 19.

"I just love challenges and I love how skiing is kind of a whole different world," she explained to Hoda Kotb. "I wanted to share that with others, so I became a ski instructor and just fell in love with freestyle skiing."

People have rallied behind other unlikely Olympians who simply aren't very good, like the first Jamaican bobsled team and British ski jumper Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards. Both of those stories have been turned into movies, though perhaps there's something inspiring about the year they competed, 1988.

Silver medal-winning American freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy sees why people might be upset that Swaney is in the Olympics while another, more qualified athlete would have gotten a shot at gold in her place.

"It's frustrating for people that have really put their blood, sweat and tears into it and maybe narrowly missed qualifying but for a much more competitive country," Kenworthy told "Today," "whereas someone from a country that doesn't have representation in the games in that sport is able to kind of walk on."

But at the same time, Kenworthy said, "I don't think anyone deserves hate online. I think that that's not really fair."

Some of the other women who ran the halfpipe had no problem with Swaney's presence, and the spokesman for the president of the International Olympic Committee said elite sport and "reaching out around the world" can go hand in hand.

"She has a great story to tell, which everyone appreciates," Mark Adams said.

Swaney said she understands where the backlash is coming from, but insisted she did her best. She hopes to upgrade her halfpipe tricks from a 360 to a 540 or 720, which she practices on a water ramp.

She encouraged people to be positive and thanked others for their time if they are negative, saying "it helps me too." And she said that she gets nothing but positivity from the other competitors in the skiing World Cup.

"One of the coaches mentioned we're on a big basketball team with all these athletes from all these different countries and we're pumping each other up throughout every competition and throughout all this training," she said. "The competition hour, we're all trying to do [our] best."

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