The name might not ring a bell, but those who followed the 2018 Winter Olympics might remember the unusual story of Elizabeth Swaney. She's an American, but she skied for Hungary (where her grandparents are from) in the women's halfpipe. Typically, skiers in this event do all kinds of death-defying tricks. Swaney did none; instead, she skied down (relatively) matter-of-factly and finished dead last, recording one of the lowest scores ever in the event, writes Davy Rothbart for the California Sunday Magazine. Swaney, now 34, endured a lot of hate for that, with critics saying she had no business competing in the Games. But in his profile of her, Rothbart writes that critics might be missing the larger point. Swaney long had a single-minded mission to compete in the Olympics, and she found a way to get it done. Turns out, she's been doing things like that her whole life.
The story ticks them off: the only girl on a youth soccer team, the only girl on a youth baseball team, becoming coxswain on the University of California's men's crew team, a run for governor at age 19 while a sophomore at Berkeley, nearly qualifying for the Olympics in the skeleton (though for Venezuela, where her mother grew up), Harvard grad school, etc. She sets her mind on something and goes after it with not just with gusto but with smart strategy and determination—she "has a scientist's precise manner and a rock climber's focus," writes Rothbart. And her Olympic critics might note that Swaney earned the admiration of fellow halfpipe skiers, who were aware of all the time she put in at qualifying events, where she executed a strategy of accumulating enough points with safe runs. Next up: She's training for TV's American Ninja Warrior. Click to read the full profile. (Read more Longform stories.)