Home / World News / U.S. Olympian Maame Biney’s short-track speedskating journey, from Ghana to PyeongChang – The Denver Post

U.S. Olympian Maame Biney’s short-track speedskating journey, from Ghana to PyeongChang – The Denver Post

KEARNS, Utah — The sun hadn’t fully poked over the Wasatch mountains when Maame Biney came bounding through the lobby of the Utah Olympic Oval, her braids bobbing and a smile enveloping most of her youthful face.

Others were still wiping the sleep from their eyes, as the young speedskater went through her morning routine: exercise bike, stretching, jogging, talking Kardashians, calculating the days until her 18th birthday.

This is the last semester of Biney’s senior year of high school, but there was no schoolwork on tap. Instead, she’d spend the day like she does most others: training for the upcoming Winter Olympics some 2,000 miles away from her home in northern Virginia, where her dad and classmates live, and some 7,000 miles away from where she was born in Accra, Ghana, where her mother and brother still reside.

Maame (pronounced Mah-MAY) Biney, 17, is the first African-American woman to qualify for an American Olympic speedskating team, and at the PyeongChang Games she promises to be one of the most improbable, unforgettable and charismatic members of the U.S. Olympic team. Her journey to the Winter Games is like few others. Her father often jokes that in Ghana, ice is used solely to keep beer cold, so his daughter’s chosen pursuit might draw some confused looks back in the country of her birth. Even in the United States, short-track speedskating is a niche sport that pokes its head into the mainstream every four years.

But when the PyeongChang Games begin next month in South Korea, the spotlight will find Biney. NBC will make her a focal point in the Olympics’ opening week, certain her story will connect with American viewers: the youngest woman on the U.S. short-track team, a possible medal contender who can connect with youth, with African Americans, with sports fans and, well, with everyone really.

“It hasn’t set in yet,” Biney says, “and I don’t think it’ll set in until I’m, like, there or until the Games are done. Things that are this big, it takes me awhile because I just can’t believe it. It’s crazy — I’m going to the Olympics!”

She broke into a fit of laughter, which would surprise no one. For Biney, a smile is her default, and she became a breakout star of sorts at the U.S. Olympic trials last month when she giggled uncontrollably through a nationally televised interview.

“I’ve actually never seen Maame in a bad mood,” said Anthony Barthell, the U.S. short-track coach.

At a recent practice, Barthell and Biney exchanged banter between training laps, and the coach likened her to Princess Fiona from the animated film “Shrek.”

“Fiona was a princess, and she was a beast,” he joked.

Soon, the coach was holding his stopwatch, and Biney and her U.S. teammates were zipping around the track at speeds topping 30 mph. It all quickly became a blur — the lightning-fast racers, sure, but also Biney’s bright future and her atypical past, her close-knit bond with her father and of course her talent and practically unmatched potential.

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