After a mysterious freestyle ski run in last year’s Winter Olympics, people called Elizabeth Swaney a scam artist and the worst athlete in the history of the games. They’re wrong.

If you happened to tune in to the Winter Games last year during the women’s halfpipe skiing competition, you might have caught one of the Olympics’ most perplexing moments. Halfpipe, which was introduced to the games in 2014, features an adrenaline-soaked spectacle: Skiers plummet down a steep track into a frozen ramp the shape of an empty motel swimming pool, before flying up the ramp’s 22-foot walls and launching high into the air for a series of bold tricks.

For years, the Olympics had been hemorrhaging viewers to the younger-skewing X Games. Adding halfpipe, among a slew of other freestyle skiing and snowboarding competitions, seemed like a clear bid to siphon back fans who craved big air. Last February, in the qualifying round in Pyeongchang, skier after skier hit the pipe ramp and soared into the sky, their bodies flipping and spinning. Then, Elizabeth Swaney — an Oakland native who’d been a last-minute add to the Hungarian team — started her run, and something really weird happened: She barely did any tricks.

Instead, she rose neatly up and down the sides of the ramp in bizarrely underwhelming fashion, as the TV announcers, thoroughly confused, narrated the action: “Liz dropping in … just getting up to the top of the wall.… Easing up to the top of the wall, showing the judges she can make it down this halfpipe clean.” The overall effect was of a basketball player dribbling up and down the court while never shooting the ball, or a figure skater cruising in circles on the ice without a single jump.

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