For close followers of the Winter Olympics the name Maame Biney will ring a bell.
At PyeongChang 2018 the then 18-year-old made two lots of history after she became the youngest skater and first Black woman to make a U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating Team.
Though her best finish was 14th place in the short track 500m, the American quickly captured audiences’ hearts with her infectious personality and mega-watt grin.
Now, with the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games beckoning, she has even more to smile about. Since her first Olympic outing in South Korea, Biney has gone from strength-to-strength.
In 2019 she scooped up the 500m gold medal at the World Junior Championships and an individual World Cup bronze medal in the 500m.
This year she flashed her talent again when she took gold in the 500m, 1000m, and 1500m at the U.S. Championships, earning her the women’s overall title.
As Biney steps up to headline the U.S women’s short track skating team for the 2021/2022 season here are the top five things you need to know about her.
1 - Ghana to America: the long road to speed skating glory
Though Biney may just have turned 21 – a significant milestone for any American - her life-journey has already seen her clock several thousands of miles.
From Accra, Ghana, to Northern Virginia, then to Utah via PyeongChang, the short track star has had a less than conventional route in her sport.
Not least because her start in the discipline came like a stroke of fate.
One day when driving through the Virginian suburbs, her father Kweku Biney saw a sign that said, “Learn to Skate.” Already on the hunt to find an outlet to channel his daughter’s electric energy, he took her to the rink for figure skating lessons.
“The first day she got on the ice,” Kweku shared with Voice of America, “I was scared. I thought she was going to break her head open. I said, ‘what did I get myself in to? This is risky!’”
Just a few months after starting, Biney’s instructor approached her father to tell him that his daughter was a little too fast for figure skating, and suggested she tried speed skating instead.
Not knowing what the discipline was, she tried it, and never looked back. The rest, as they say, is history.
2 - Who is Anna Digger? She's Maame Biney's alter ego
Taking the lead and commanding the pack is all but necessary to triumph in short track.
But taking on such a position, one that puts you under the spotlights with a target on your back, requires a certain amount of confidence - something Biney admits she struggles with.
To counteract her racing nerves, the American often draws on an old childhood alter ego to help her find the fierce personality she needs to compete.
Speaking to Olympics.com, she said: “In real life, I like to stay in the background, not be front and centre but you need that in racing.”
“The thing about Anna is she is very fierce and strong, and she doesn’t care about anything.”
“She doesn’t care who she’s on the ice with. All she wants to do is be the fastest and the smartest, and cross that line first. We are completely different. I’m very shy and awkward,” the speed-skater insisted.
“So having Anna by my side, she can do that being-fierce stuff for me. Getting in character helps me go faster.”
3 - Hitting high speeds and finding down time
Unlike long track speed skating, in short track athletes are required to compete against each other and not the clock.
That added edge of physicality not only requires strategy and skill but also an element of bravery.
“I think if I were to put speed skating in an art form,” Biney shares in conversation with Togethxr, “I would think of it as angry strokes.”
“It is beautiful, but also like, is super dangerous and aggressive.”
The danger factor that the Olympian alludes to comes in part down to the speeds the skaters hit as they whip around the oval shaped track:
“The fastest I’ve gone… it’s probably like 25 to 30 miles an hour.”
For those counting that’s roughly 48 kilometres an hour.
Competing on the edge of a blade demands intense focus and concentration but fortunately for the University of Utah student, she’s learnt how to master unwinding.
Not only has turned to meditation as means of taking her mind off her sport but she’s also an avid watcher of Netflix.
Just recently she shared with Team USA about finishing the immensely popular South Korean television series ‘Squid Game’ and is now watching ‘Peaky Blinders’ a British drama based around gangs during the early 20th century in Birmingham.
4 - Maame Biney on using her voice
When Biney made her Olympic debut in short track at just 18 years old, she immediately became a media sensation.
Though the spotlight was thrust upon her in a way she did not anticipate, the skater says she relishes the platform it has afforded her.
“It means a lot to me to be the first Black woman to be on the Short Track National team, Olympic team,” Biney continued to Togethxr. “I absolutely love the fact that I’m able to give inspiration to people.”
Following the death of George Floyd – an unarmed black man killed while in police custody in Minnesota last year – the Olympic skater says felt moved to use her platform to support causes important to her, including the Black Lives Matter movement:
“Beneath all the happiness and smiling and stuff like that I feel like I’m very passionate about like the problems that are in the world.”
“Finding my voice started a little bit during this season, or this year. Ever since the death of George Floyd, like even before I’ve always wanted to become some sort of like voice and activist.”
“I aspire to be that athlete or that person to use their platform. I want to be able to break that stigma of not saying anything.”
“We’re more than speed skaters. I am a role model and that I am a leader to people of colour and Black people. And like the younger kids too.”
5 - Biney bringing on Beijing 2022 challenge
Maturity, Biney believes, will be her best ally when it comes to trying to make a second Olympic Games appearance.
While she loved her time in Korea soaking up the atmosphere that the speed skating powerhouse nation delved out in spades, she has her sights sets higher this time around:
“The last couple of years,” the American continued to Olympics.com, “I’ve learned about who I am as a skater and as a person, and what I need to do to be a better skater.
“There are so many great athletes, but I needed to realise I am as good as them, and that I need to learn to skate smart. Over time, I’ve developed a new way of thinking; it can’t just be ‘skate fast’.”
“A medal at Beijing, and hopefully a gold, is 100 per cent my biggest goal. I really want it. I have experience under my belt, and I like to think I have a good chance. But who knows – it’s short track.”
The Beijing 2020 Winter Olympic Games are set to take place from February 4 - February 20, 2022. Find out more on Olympics.com website, app, and @olympics social media handles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.