4 Things You Need to Know About Olympic Speed Skater Maame Biney
She’s the first female African-American speed skater to compete for Team USA.
Maame Biney is a name you’re about to hear a lot over the course of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, if you haven’t already. The 18-year-old speed skater’s been winning over audiences and fellow Olympians with her megawatt smile, infectious positivity, and incredible skill.
Oh, and she also happens to be making history as the first ever female African-American speed skater to qualify for Team USA.
The high school senior won both 500-meter races at the Olympic Trials for short track speed skating in December 2017 to secure her spot on the team, according to the NBC Olympics website—a video on NBC’s Facebook page of her qualifying race has over 6 million views. Her dad also makes an adorable cameo with a sign that reads, “Kick some hiney, Biney.”
1. She started as a figure skater when she moved from Ghana to the U.S., but coaches told her she was too fast.
Biney was born in Accra, Ghana, but moved to the U.S. to live with her father in Reston, Virginia, when she was 5. (Her mother and younger brother still live in Ghana.)
As the story goes, she was 6 when her dad saw a sign that said “Learn to skate this fall” while they were driving, according to the NBC Olympics website. She said yes, she was interested—but her dad had to explain what ice skating was first (there’s no ice in Ghana, he told NBC).
Turns out, she was almost too much of a natural. Her coaches eventually encouraged her to make the switch to speed skating because she was so fast. The rest is history.
“I love the speed,” she said in an interview with NBC News. When asked if she could picture herself figure skating now, her answer was a hard no. “Because these thighs are not meant for figure skaters! They are for speed skaters,” she said. And while there’s no “right” body for anyone, it seems like Biney’s talking about the incredible power her strong, muscular legs give her on the speed skating track—and no doubt she’s worked hard on building her lower-body strength.
2. She specializes in short track speed skating.
There are two types of speed skating: long track and short track. Biney competes in the latter.
A bit of background: As the name suggests, short track speed skating has a shorter track (111.12 meters compared to 400 meters, according to The Washington Post), so there are more tight turns and the race distances are shorter. They also start in groups and race against each other (so there’s more protective gear)—in long track speed skating, they race in pairs against the clock, not against other pairs at the same time.
Biney’s favorite event is the 500 meters, and it’s also where she dominates. She told TeamUSA.org, “It’s short and fast and those are my two favorite things about skating, going really fast in a short race.”
3. She has an alter ego called Anna Digger.
A la Beyoncé (Sasha Fierce), Biney has her own alter ego that she turns on when she needs to dig deep—and her name is, fittingly, Anna Digger.
She came up with the character when she was 10, according to The Washington Post. And according to USA Today, Biney even has a separate email account for Anna.
While Biney is usually all smiles, on the track, it’s Anna’s game face that’s showing—and Anna will have her time to shine on Tuesday, Biney said after Saturday’s race. “You’re definitely going to see her [on Tuesday,]” she said, reports The Washington Post. “I’m ready to go out there and kill it!”
4. She’s competing in the the 500-meter quarterfinals on Tuesday, February 13—and hoping to move on to earn a medal that day.
The next time you can see Biney crush it on the ice will be Tuesday, February 13. She’ll compete first in the 500-meter quarterfinals, which will determine whether she moves onto the semifinals and then, the finals, where she’ll have the opportunity to bring home a medal.
To watch it live, you’ll have to be up pretty early—the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals are scheduled from 5 A.M. to 7:30 A.M. EST on Tuesday, February 13, and you can stream them on the NBC Olympics site.
She’s also competing in the 1500-meter race, which will take place on Saturday, February 17.
“Obviously, my goal is to get the gold or get any medal, but my goal-goal is to just do my best, the best I can, and put it all out there on the ice,” she told The LA Times. “And if I don’t get a medal, that’s OK. It just means I can get it next time. I’ll be back in ’22.” There’s no doubt she’ll still have the entire country cheering her on then.