Less than a month after making her Olympic debut, 18-year-old Maame Biney is now a world champion.
Biney bounced back from two less-than-stellar performances at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 in spectacular fashion to crush the competition in the 500-meter at the ISU World Junior Short Track Championship 2018 on Saturday in Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland.
Biney is the first U.S. woman to win a junior world title and the first U.S. short track junior world champion since J.R. Celski in 2009.
Biney, who made headlines as the first black female speedskater to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team, won the 500 by sweeping all of her heats from qualifying through the final, also posting the fastest time in each round.
She won the final in 44.305 seconds, more than a half second better than Hungary’s Petra Jaszapati, who finished in 44.359. Xandra Velzeboer of Netherlands took the bronze.
Biney qualified first overall in 44.202 and set the top time in the quarterfinals of 44.551 to win that heat, going 44.377 in the semifinals to cement her spot in the A final.
This was Biney’s third time competing at world juniors, where she earned a bronze medal in the 500 last year.
Biney has been a darling for Team USA this season. Still a senior in high school, she won the 500 at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and placed in the top three in both the 1,000 and 1,500.
Things went much better for her at world juniors than during her Olympic debut in PyeongChang, where incidental contact in the quarterfinals cost her advancement in the 500, and she couldn’t find fresh legs for the 1,500.
Biney was born in Accra, Ghana, and moved to the United States when she was 6. She is the second Africa-born athlete to compete for Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games, joining biathlete Dan Westover, who was born in Madagascar and competed at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
She is also the first black woman to represent Team USA in an Olympic speedskating competition. At the same Games, Erin Jackson became the first black female long track speedskater for Team USA.
Gary R. Blockus is a journalist from Allentown, Pennsylvania who has covered multiple Olympic Games.