Maame Biney, the first African-American woman to skate for Team USA at an Olympics in 2018, is just getting started

The 18-year-old short-track speedskater was one of NBC’s media darlings at the 2018 Olympics

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maame Biney cruises during a women's 1000 meter final during day 3 of the U.S. short-track Olympic Team Trials at the Utah Olympic Oval, Sunday, December 17, 2017. Biney made the Olympic team.

Kearns • She just doesn’t know how Miley Cyrus does it. That’s her go-to analogy, because after all, she’s just 18. It’s how she explains going from being just another giddy teenager to someone strangers on the street stopped to talk to or took pictures of. When you become a face of Olympic news coverage, this is what follows. Instant fame. Instant reality. That became Maame Biney’s life.

“I didn’t know how to deal with that,” she said.

She’s learning. It takes time, because now, closing in on a year since she burst onto the international scene as the bubbly American short-track speedskater who also became first African-American woman to ever skate for Team USA at an Olympics, this how it is. And it’s how it’s going to be. Because she wants to keep going, she wants to push harder this next cycle, and wants to show up in Beijing in 2022 with more than just her noted smile and uncontrollable laugh.

This weekend at the Utah Olympic Oval is, essentially, the start to the next four years. It’s unlike anything she’s ever dealt with, at least to this extent. She’s a full-time college student now, a freshman at the University of Utah, living in the dorms on campus, studying information systems, still after all these years of balancing the ice and the books, learning how to devote the adequate amount of time to each.

She’s young, sure, but she’s no rookie. Not at the balancing act.

“I’m really grateful I started doing that in middle school,” she said, looking back on zeroing in on her two main focuses.

This short-track World Cup stop in Kearns this weekend might be rough, Biney admits. She took nearly five months off to, well, be a kid. She went home and graduated from high school in her hometown of Reston, Va. She went to prom. She delivered the Opening Day lineup card for the Washington Nationals in a customized jersey supporting her hometown club.

Anything else?

“I literally just stayed in my bed,” Biney laughs. “Did nothing.”


AT THE Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns

Saturday: 1,000 and 1,500-meter races from 2 to 6 p.m.

Sunday: 500 and 1,00-meter races from 2 to 6 p.m.

That time is done. The buildup begins now. New U.S. short-track national team coach Wilma Boomstra had always watched Biney from afar. Boomstra describes Biney as “extremely explosive,” a young racer who relied on strength, speed and athleticism. These are the necessary steps for Biney to make the leap those in the sport expect her to make:

“We need to work on technique and we need to work on racing awareness,” Boomstra said. “Those are the main things for me that I can see her improve. Honestly, every competition she’s going to be making better moves, because she’s not going to make the same mistake twice.”

At her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang in February, Biney’s radiating attitude was not on scene. In the third 500-meter quarterfinal heat, arguably her strongest event, she fell behind early and couldn’t figure out a way to recover against the world’s best. Afterward, Biney cried. The weight of the world was there upon her, she reflects now, mainly because she feared — and still does — letting those around her down.

“That’s going to be really, really tough,” she said. “It’s just because of who I am. I’ve always wanted to make my dad proud. No matter what, he’s proud of me, even if I get dead-last, he’s proud. For me, I want to get first for him, and I want to get first for Wilma, and I want to get first for my team, for my country, for my friends. I want to get first, but I come last.”

One of Boomstra’s priorities is coaching that out of her young skater.

“You’re not doing this for anyone else, you’re doing this for you,” she tells Biney. “We talk about not competing with anyone else — let everyone else compete with you.”

The onslaught of attention has dimmed in the wake of a Closing Ceremony. But Biney’s story resonated with so many Olympic fans that she remains in the limelight. This week she was showcased in Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 feature. She might not know how Miley Cyrus deals with it, but Maame Biney is doing just fine.