Liz Swaney has done a lot of cool stuff in her life, like running for governor of California while a student at Cal Berkley, trying out for the Oakland Raiders’ cheerleading squad and even making a stab as a skeleton racer (the ones with their heads leading the way as they slide down an icy track) for Venezuela. But this is her greatest feat: gaming the system to qualify for the Olympics as a halfpipe skier, a sport the 33-year-old took up only eight years ago.
Swaney is highly educated–Harvard and Cal-Berkley according to her Instagram account–and using her grandfather’s Hungarian heritage, she made the country’s Olympic team by traveling around the world to qualify while working at two Bay Area-startups to fund her travel.
But her pizzas and french fries through the halfpipe scored just a 31.40, 40 points below the qualifying run scores that sent 12 women to the finals. In core snowboarding and skiing circles, the Olympics have a reputation of dumbing down the actual comp, since only 3-4 people from each country are allowed to represent when the best skiers and snowboarders usually come from a handful of locales. Hungary isn’t necessarily considered a skiing and snowboarding powerhouse, especially in freeride competitions like pipe and slopestyle. So social media went bonkers after Swaney’s pedestrian runs–many commenters claimed hard-working athletes are missing out on an opportunity.
But none of the most talented competitors seemed to mind Swaney’s quest. Canadian Cassie Sharpe was the top qualifier to the finals and defended her: “If you put in the time and put in the effort to be here,” she said, “you have as much of a right to be here as I do.”