Seventeen-year-old Maame Biney made history by becoming the first African American woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic speedskating team in the 2018 Winter Games. Biney earned her spot on the team after coming in first place during the first 500 meters at the short track trials last Saturday, beating Olympians Lana Gehring, Jessica Kooreman, and Katherine Reutter-Adamek.
“I can’t believe it, aww geez,” she said with overwhelming joy after the race, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a really good feeling, but it has to set in first because it takes me a while. I’m like, ‘Holy cow.’” She called the victory “a really good feeling,” adding “I can’t believe I’m on the Olympic team.”
Biney was born in Accra, Ghana, and moved to Wheaton, Maryland, with her father when she was five years old. Later, they relocated to Reston, Virginia, where she discovered her passion for the ice.
“She got on the ice. I was like Oh My God. What did I get myself into,” said her father, Kweku Biney. Once Biney’s coach noticed she was skating too fast for figure skating, he suggested that she try speed skating. “I didn’t know what that was but I was like, OK,” Biney recalled.
“She’s a natural athlete,’ Anthony Barthell, national short track coach, told the AP. Most natural athletes have a hard transition to skating because speedskating is so unnatural. It goes against everything you’re taught as an athlete. So for her, she’s learned how to skate and is able to use her natural athletic abilities… In my eyes, I feel she can be one of the top girls in the world. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but she has the potential.”
Biney will be the second African American speed skater to join a U.S. Olympic team. In 2002, Shani Davis became the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics.