Liz Swaney posts 31.40, 40 points below medal-round qualification

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- The words left Liz Swaney's lips without an ounce of irony. No telling curl of the lips. No wink. Nothing. She meant them. All of them.

"I didn't qualify for finals so I'm really disappointed," said the 33-year-old Californian who competes for Hungary after coming in last in the 24-woman field during Olympic women's halfpipe qualifying on Monday.

She seemed ... surprised.

Even though her score of 31.40 was more than 40 points behind France's Anais Caradeux, whose 72.80 marked the lowest of the 12 skiers to move on to Tuesday's medal round.

Even though Swaney finished in about the same position in each of the dozen events she competed across the globe over the last four years in the run-up to the Pyeongchang Games.

Even though her two qualifying runs at Phoenix Snow Park featured little more than Swaney riding up the halfpipe wall before turning around in the air and skiing to the other side. It was a sequence she repeated a handful of times before capping her final trip with a pair of "alley oops," basically inward 180-degree turns more fitting for the local slopes than the world's largest sporting event.

Halfpipe is judged on a 100-point scale. Swaney has yet to break 40 in an FIS-sanctioned competition, not because she regularly wipes out trying to throw difficult tricks, but because she doesn't even try them.

Yet she's here in South Korea anyway as part of the Hungarian delegation, the latest in a series of quixotic pursuits that include running for governor of California as a 19-year-old student at Berkeley to trying out for the Oakland Raiders cheerleading team to mounting a push to reach the Olympics as skeleton racer for Venezuela. She only started skiing eight years ago and only got serious about it after the skeleton thing didn't take.

"I still want to inspire people to get involved with athletics or a new sport or a new challenge at any age in life," she said.

Swaney racked up the required FIS points to reach the Olympic standard and went through the necessary hoops to join Team Hungary, the connection coming from her Hungarian maternal grandfather, who she said would have turned 100 on Tuesday. She has spent more than her fair share of money hopscotching continents chasing a dream she says was hatched watching the 1992 Games.

It was not easy and it was not cheap. Yet she kept at it. Keeping at it is kind of her thing. No matter how you try to frame the questions, the answers come back the same. She swears this isn't a publicity stunt. This is real.

"I'm trying to soak in the Olympic experience but also focusing on the halfpipe here and trying to go higher each time and getting more spins in," said Swaney, who wore bib No. 23 and stars-and-stripes goggles not as some sort of statement, but basically because they were the least expensive in the athlete's store.

Canadian Cassie Sharpe packed more twists into the first two tricks of her qualifying-topping run than Swaney did all day. In an event making its second Olympic appearance, one focused on progression and pushing the edge, Swaney's tentative, decidedly grounded trips down the pipe play in stark contrast to everyone else.

The English-language announcer stayed largely quiet during Swaney's second run because, well, there wasn't much to describe. As Lady Gaga blared over the speakers, the crowd watched in silence for sparse applause at the end. The judges awarded her for doing back-to-back "alley oops," with the American judge even giving her a 33. It was better than her first, but it was nowhere near world class.