Short track: The next generation - Maame Biney ~ Passion/Patin/Vitesse - Passion/Speed/Skating


15 juillet 2018

Short track: The next generation - Maame Biney

How did a little girl from Ghana, an African country by the Gulf of Guinea, ended up competing in short track speed skating on the biggest stage of the world, the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic games.

By Carl Savard
Photos by Danny Kim, Martin Holtom and Carl Savard

From Africa to winter sport
I have to admit I was pretty excited about meeting Maame Biney. Since sport at the elite level can be stressful and filled with stumbles and hardships, a positive attitude and a smile can be useful tools to go through adversity. The young 18 years old American, born in Ghana, may still have plenty of things to learn when it comes to short track speed skating, but when it comes to being positive and smiling, she may be ahead of the competition. “I just love the speed! Going super fast and feeling the wind just catching you. It may sound cliché but it’s what I really like. Going super fast and letting everything go.” Biney arrived in the United-States at the age of 5 and started skating almost immediately. “My dad said ‘You’re gonna do something to keep yourself occupied and stay out of trouble’. He could have easily gone to soccer because it was closer to him or any other sport than speed skating or anything on ice, but he was just driving down the street one day and saw a sign that said ‘learn to skate’ and asked me if I wanted to try. I did figure skating for a few months but my coach suggested that I should  try speed skating and that’s when the magic happened!” Even though her dad insisted that she needed to find a sport that she liked, believing it’s a great way to lean more about life, he just wanted her to have fun and do her thing. For young Maame, things became more serious when she didn’t qualify on her first try to be part of the junior national team. Failing to represent the U.S.A. made her realise how much she wanted too. “It's when it became more serious. The following year, on my second try, I broke my ankle during the trials and thought I wouldn’t make it again. I begged my dad to let me try anyway because he was telling me ‘You can’t go, you broke your ankle and it’s just gonna get worse!’ but I was like ‘No, no, I’m doing this!' I didn’t do so well but I was skating on a broken ankle so it was ok.” Even if we could see the potential at that time, it's by beating veteran skaters to grab her spot for the Olympic games last season that she turned into a synonym of hope for the US speed skating program.

Stage fright
Just seeing how excited she was when she gave a tv interview, just seconds after securing her spot for Pyeongchang, was a a breath of fresh air. But all this attention can become overwhelming. “Right after the video where I fell on the ice while celebrating went viral, I’ve been hit by a wave of like, everyone wanted to talk to me and congratulate me and I appreciate it, especially for the fact that people are starting to notice our sport, but it was just so much and I didn’t know how to deal with that. My mental state wasn’t the best during the Olympic games. It was crazy. I’m not used to cameras or having a lot of attention on me. During the Olympics I tried not to look at social media but at the end, the competition, the media and the people's attention got to me. I’m really happy that I was able to have the experience that I had even though it wasn't the one that I wanted. I think I learned and will be better prepared in four years.” As she finished her sentence, I had to tell her she will need to figure out the media aspect, because her outgoing personality will continue to draw people towards her and the sport. Even though she didn’t pass the first round on 1500m and her competition stopped at the quarter-finals on 500m, the experience she gained on that first trip to the big show is priceless. After all, she is still a junior.

Known territory
If the Olympics were a learning experience without on ice results, the 2018 ISU World Junior Short Track Championships presented in Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland were different. “I was way more comfortable at the Juniors than I was at the Olympics. I knew what to expect and what to do because I had been there already and I knew there wouldn’t  be as much coverage compared to the Olympics where it was 'BOOM! Oh my God there’s a lot of people!’. She came back from Poland with a title of junior world champion on 500m, a bronze medal on 1000m and finished third overall in the competition behind Korea’s Kim Ji-yoo and Canada’s Courtney Sarault. She had finished in 7th place overall the year before at these same championships.

Maame Biney is the best thing that has happened to the US speed skating program in a while. Since the time where Apolo Ohno was the face of the sport in the USA, the American relied almost solely on J.R. Celski for a few years. Recently, it seemed like John-Henry Krueger was to become the next leader, but his departure for Hungary leaves a huge void. Maame Biney is still young and still has things to learn to be at the top of her favorite sport, but she could easily become the face of the American program. For now, short track fans from all over the world should just appreciate seeing her evolve on the world stage and enjoy what she naturally brings to the table: an amazing smile and a positive attitude. Things that seems to be greatly missed these days in many aspects of life. Many believe she has what it takes to accomplish great things and she is starting to believe it too.

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