Although I’m not someone who usually follows the Olympics, I have taken note of Hungarian-American freestyle skier Elizabeth Swaney this year.
Chances are, you have too. Swaney has not been in the spotlight for her Olympian talent or backstory about her life-long pursuit of competing in the games. It’s actually quite the opposite. The Oakland native and University of California, Berkeley alumna made it to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games competing as Hungary’s first Olympic freestyle skier. She finished in last place, which was no surprise because Swaney finished at the bottom of the competition in all of the contests she competed in prior to the Olympics.
Yet, she was still able to qualify for the Olympics by participating in competitions with fewer than 30 competitors, therefore satisfying the international requirement of having a number of top-30 finishes.
Swaney has been receiving a lot of hate and negativity on her social media accounts. Comment sections are flooded with people expressing their anger for her gaming the system. A couple comments on one of her Instagram posts read, “You should be embarrassed to call yourself an olympian” and “Take Olympian out of your bio.” Several comments are much harsher and ill-mannered.
But I find Swaney to be an inspiration. She had a goal, she played by the rules and did not hurt anyone in the process of accomplishing it. Seeing her compete made me realize that even I can find a way to accomplish my own goals, no matter how daunting they may seem. Most people see competing in the Olympics as unattainable unless you have raw talent or have years of training under your belt. I hope Swaney’s participation in the games serves as encouragement for people who might not have the aforementioned prerequisites.
I think Swaney should be met with more positivity, similar to how Mexican cross-country skier German Madrazo’s participation was received. Madrazo was inspired to start skiing just last year, and he finished in last place in this year’s men’s 15km cross-country competition. He was welcomed with open arms by fellow competitors as he crossed the finish line. Smiles adorned everyone’s faces.
Comments on Madrazo’s Instagram express pride and joy for his participation. One comment reads, “So proud of you, you made your dream come true, and had so many people supporting you. You’re a champion and never forget that.”
Swaney should be greeted with the same level of admiration. She, too, pursued her dreams. People have caused actual harm and stolen medals from athletes by cheating and abusing steroids in past Olympic games, but Swaney did not. She is an Olympian and she deserves to be treated as one.