The Olympics is not, like some people think, a match-up of the absolute best athletes in the world. It’s a match-up of people who have just happened to have qualified for the Olympics. Often, those are the best athletes in the world, but it's also possible to game the system, which was how Elizabeth Swaney became an Olympic skier in 2018 despite not being a very good skier at all. 

The first trick that helped Swaney was that the Olympics does not admit, say, the top 300 skiers in the world. If they did, maybe they'd end up with 100 from the US, 100 from Canada, 100 from Switzerland, and that's it, which wouldn't be very fun for anyone. Instead, they allocate each country slots, so dozens of countries compete. In 2018, the US would end up with 30 slots total and 4 for Swaney's sport of women's halfpipe, the max possible. Swaney stood no chance of being one of those four women. But she could compete for Hungary (she had a grandparent from Hungary) since they were otherwise sending no skiers at all.

So, could she just sign up to represent Hungary and then qualify automatically? No, that would be ridiculous. She had to meet two qualifications—which, when we break them down, are also ridiculous.

First, she had to place in the top 30 of a skiing World Cup event. That sounds challenging. But many women's World Cup events have fewer than 30 competitors total, which means so long as you take part, you place. Qualifying for these events, it seems, is easy and just a matter of filling up the right forms.

The second requirement was more complicated. Skiers receive points depending on how well they do in various events during the years leading up to the Olympics, and to qualify for the Olympics, you have to accrue 50 of these FIS points. Swaney got these points by ... participating in a whole lot of events. Never winning any, or doing very well, but taking part in more of them than any other skier and so racking up all the points necessary. So, even “scamming” the Olympics, as some people called it, took a lot of time and work.

When the games played out in South Korea, she finished last of course, and commentators were baffled by her simple skiing style. 

And yet, during those qualifying matches, she often hadn't ranked last. Most skiers try to win, skiing fast and pulling off tricks. Inevitably, some of them mess up and crash. Swaney, however, just wanted to finish each event, so she never tried anything fancy and always made it to the end. Brings to mind the tortoise and the hare. Or that one ski episode of South Park.

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For more tales from the slopes, check out: 

Meet The Soldier Who (Accidentally) Had An Epic Drug Trip ... In The Middle of WWII

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5 Ways to Enjoy Terrible Winter Olympic Events

Top image: Patrick Hui

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