Teenager Maame Biney makes history as first female African-American speedskating Olympian

Seventeen-year-old dominates 500-meter events at U.S. Team Trials

Kearns • In the immediate and euphoric haze, Maame Biney crashed.

She made it nearly halfway around the track inside the Utah Olympic Oval, pumping her fists in circles, waving to the crowd that roared at her every turn, when the 17-year-old short-track speedskating sensation lost her footing, tumbling to the ice.

There were no collective gasps.

Only laughs.

And more cheers.

There was Biney, the bubbly teenager who was once told she could no longer pursue figure skating because she skat-d too fast, kicking her feet out in celebration. She slapped each side of her helmet before picking herself up off the rink in Kearns as a soon-to-be Olympian.

“When I realized I made the Olympic team, I started cheering like crazy and then I made my epic fall,” Biney said afterward. “So, yeah, you’re welcome.”

A dominating performance in Saturday’s 500-meter U.S. Olympic Team Trials solidified Biney’s spot on a flight to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in February. The Reston, Va., native won both 500-meter finals, leaving no doubt that the future of U.S. short-track speedskating has a name to follow for now and for years to come.

The 500-meter event, Biney said, is her distance.

“It’s short and simple and you’re done in like 45 seconds,” she said.

She made sure she was done much earlier, skating a personal-best 43.161.

Biney did so in front of a packed arena rooting for her. Her father, Kweku, who relocated to the U.S. from Ghana with Maame when she was 5, stood on the top row of the bleachers slamming inflatable noisemaking sticks together. He also held up a sign that read, “Kick some hiney Biney.” Also in attendance were Biney’s host family from Park City, some of their neighbors as well as members of her hometown squad, Dominion Speedskating Club.

Another sign in the Biney section of the crowd stated, “Nothing Biney can’t do!”

Yes, the youngster — the first African-American woman to make a U.S. speedskating team — has aspirations. The Pyeongchang Games will be her intro to the world, where she’ll jockey for medal contention against the world’s most-rounded and swift skaters. But she’s setting her sights on setting a new world-record time in the women’s 500-meter event. That’s a primary goal in 2018. Great Britain’s Elise Christie set the record (42.335 seconds) last year in Kearns.

And if Saturday’s race was any indication, Biney has a shot. She left no doubt in either 500-meter final.

“I don’t really focus on the people who are behind me,” she said. “I just focus on like myself and what I have to do in order to win the race.”

Maame Biney reacts during a medal ceremony after winning women's 500-meter A final race during the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating trials Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Joining Biney in South Korea will be U.S. Olympic veteran J.R. Celski, who cemented his spot on the team Saturday as well as 21-year-old Aaron Tran. Both Celski and Tran hail from Federal Way, Wash.

Celski, a three-time Olympic medalist, overcame a shaky start to the day, sliding out in his first 500-meter heat to come back and win a lower-division final and later place second in the following 500-meter men’s final, behind John-Henry Krueger, who earned a spot on the team Friday evening by winning the men’s 1,500-meter final.

“I came out here and gave it my all,” Celski said.

Tran, who won the first men’s 500-meter final and placed in the second final, garnered enough points to be one of five U.S. male athletes headed to Pyeongchang.

“I don’t have any words for it,” Tran said. “I’ve been training my whole life for this moment. It’s surreal that they told me I made it.”

2017 U.S. Short-Track Olympic Team Trials<br>Location » Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns<br>Day 2 results » Men’s and women’s 500-meter finals<br>Men’s first-place finishes » Aaron Tran, John-Henry Krueger<br>Women’s first-place finishes » Maame Biney<br>Men’s Olympic Team Trial Standings (Five skaters make the team)<br>1. John-Henry Krueger, 3,440 points*<br>2. Aaron Tran, 2,536 points*<br>3. J.R. Celski, 2,262 points*<br>4. Thomas Insuk Hong, 2,054 points<br>5. Ryan Pivirotto, 1,776 points<br>Women’s Olympic Team Trial Standings (Three skaters make the team)<br>1. Lana Gehring, 3,312 points*<br>2. Maame Biney, 2,968 points*<br>3. Jessica Kooreman, 2,522 points<br>4. Kristen Santos, 2,290<br>5. Katherine Reutter-Adamek, 1,768<br>( * denotes skaters already qualified for U.S. Olympic Team)<br>Sunday schedule » Men’s and women’s 1,000-meter, 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m.