Gangneung, South Korea • Maame Biney was not Maame Biney.
Not for those 44 seconds Tuesday night inside the Gangneung Ice Arena. Not for most of the 2½ minutes she spoke about how rapidly her best event, the women’s 500 meters, was over before it even began. The 18-year-old U.S. short-track speedskating sensation just had experienced the cruel Olympic reminder so many have prior.
In a flash, it was over.
In a flash, she fell behind in the third 500-meter quarterfinal heat.
In a flash, the race many expected her to be an Olympic medal threat in was suddenly four years from now.
Biney was not her usual self, not nervously answering questions or laughing at herself. Describing her last-place skate, she explained it simply: She got bumped mere seconds after the start, left in the wake of the three other skaters: Sofia Prosvirnova of the Olympic Athletes of Russia and China’s Fan Kexin and Han Yutong.
“And I don’t usually get bumped in the start,” she said, “so it was a big shock to me. So I just need to figure out how to get my rhythm back. But I didn’t, so it’s OK.”
During that response, a tear tumbled down the left side of her face straight to the floor. The powerful youngster, who burst onto the national-team scene and recently relocated to Utah this July to train full time, then realized that it’d be another Olympic cycle before she could contend once more in her favorite event. (She does skate in the women’s 1,500 meters here Saturday.)
This stage is indeed unlike any other. Placed in a heat of short-track veteran skaters, Biney never made up ground. On the broadcast feed, she was so far behind that she did not come into the frame when the lead group did. She finished a full second behind first-place Prosvirnova. Biney could not recall the last time she had a start that poor.
“It’s just been so long,” she said.
“I feel like for more experienced racers, they get back in the rhythm very quickly,” Biney added, “but since I’m so young and don’t have that much experience, I got to figure out how to get into that rhythm quickly.”
There weren’t nerves, she said. The short-track team practiced Monday here in South Korea, where Biney said she felt great. She was “so ready to go out there and kill it,” she said. The start did her in. A glimpse of Biney’s affable self eventually appeared. She joked that her coach was going to yell at her. There were fewer tears then. The teenager knew exactly what her coach was going to say.
“I wasn’t myself during the races,” she said, “and he would rather me be myself and get dead last than get dead last and not be myself. [I needed to be] more aggressive and just skate like I do.”