Meet Maame Biney, the first female African-American speed skating Olympian

Published January 29, 2018

COLLAGE BY MAXWELL N. BURNSTEIN.

In the lead up to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang on February 8, 2018, we will be introducing 10 young athletes who will be stealing America’s hearts and standing on the podium.

Short track speed skater Maame Biney, 17, is quickly becoming America’s sweetheart on ice. Entering her first games in PyeongChang this February, the Ghana-born, American-raised athlete surpassed industry veterans in qualifying for her spot on Team USA, making her the first ever female African-American to qualify for the Olympics in short track speed skating.

A fierce competitor, Biney’s Olympic qualifying match saw her lead 500M and follow in the top of her other events to secure her position on the team. Biney’s popularity in the run up to the games extended beyond her ken; with over five million views of her 500M short track qualifying run on Facebook, her qualifying run went viral—a major achievement for an often under-appreciated sport. Of the attention, Biney said, “It was very surprising,” but would still rather binge on Netflix than revel in her newfound stardom.

Biney credits her father Kweku for the opportunity to be competing at the games, saying they share the Olympic dream. She’ll be making history by stepping on the ice, but Biney isn’t interested in flattering titles when medals and shared dreams are at stake.

When I describe speed skating…

It’s about being super technical because everything you do is very important. If you make a mistake, the run is over. If everything is in place, you’re going to be super fast and can rely on your strategy.

I would define my style of skating as…

Interesting because I take a bit of everyone else and interpret that in my own way. It’s very unique, and using other athletes as references.

Being quick off the start is…

Important because having that first position secures whatever place you’re going to get for that next round or for the gold medal. If you only have an okay start, the rest of the girls can beat you! Because then you’re only chasing them, you’re not really racing against them.

Qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team…

Felt super surprising. I surprised myself, but everyone else thought I had this. I was competing against some people who have been doing this as long as I’ve been alive. As the youngest one, I felt it was super scary. I just went out there and I made the team, which was really awesome.

Competing against Olympians for the spot was…

Nerve-wracking and stressful. I knew they had years of experience under their belts and I hadn’t had two full years (at that point). I knew I belonged there and just needed to put out whatever I had to.

Being the first African-American Women to qualify for my event…

I am very fortunate to have a community that surrounds and supports me and doesn’t treat me any differently. When the titles came out saying this, I thought it was very cool, but it doesn’t affect me.

Competing at this level takes…

A way for you to find “the fun” within the sport. It’s very hard to be where you want to get in your career. For most of the people I’m competing against, we have the same speed and it just depends on how you use it. In order to still have fun, sometimes you have to bring yourself back into the moment, instead of looking ahead into the future.

Going viral off the 500M run was…

Strange. I don’t like to have the attention on me. When I found out the video on Facebook had over five million views of my race I was wondering what was happening? It was very surprising.

I’m using my platform to…

Inspire other young skaters (whether African-American, White, Latino, Asian and all other ethnicities) to find a sport that they love and go with it. Especially for girls because I feel they are sometimes downgraded and not ecouraged to live up to their potential. Maybe they are scared of the judgment. They need to be like, “Who cares?! Go and do you!”

To stay grounded…

I watch Netflix. [laughs] Right now I am binge watching Madam Secretary. It feels related to our world, but is not exactly true … but feels more real.

Applying for college while competing is…

Really hard because right now I’m doing online school, so having that on top of competing and applying to colleges is hard! I have no time to do it and the deadlines are looming closer. I don’t know what to put on my applications, but my dad has been such a huge help. He’s been going through step-by-step with me.

My dad is…

The best person in my life. He has sacrificed so much for me to be here and who I am right now.

My dad and I share this Olympic dream…

Of how he has helped guide me through the process; being there since the dream appeared.

I’m preparing for the games by…

Doing the same thing I did to prepare for trials: which is skating hard and having fun doing what I do!

My personal goal is…

To get a medal, but also, I am very young and have lots of time. My ultimate goal is just to experience the games and do the best I can do, which is all I can ask for from myself.

 

LEARN MORE AT TEAMUSA.ORG. THE WINTER OLYMPICS BEGIN LIVE ON FEBRUARY 8, 2018. THE PARALYMPICS START ON MARCH 9, 2018.