Winning isn’t easy. Eighteen-year-old speedskater Maame Biney learned that when she competed at her first Olympics last month. The first African-American woman to make the short track speedskating team, Biney qualified for two events in PyeongChang: the 500-meter and 1,500-meter. She was eliminated in the 500-meter quarterfinals after a bump rattled her into last, and then in her 1,500-meter qualifying heat placed last again.
But thanks to her positive attitude and permanent smile, the self-described “baby to this sport” — who just completed her first season competing at the senior level — came home to a slew of new fans.
(And less than a month after PyeongChang, earned a gold medal at the world junior championships in the 500, bronze in the 1,000 and bronze overall.)
Thankful for the opportunity, she shared with us six things she learned from her first Olympic experience:
1) Competing At The Olympics Is Unlike Anything Else
Even though Biney has been skating since the age of 6, she admitted that she wasn’t used to the pressure — and the crowds — that come with the Olympics. “At other competitions I’ve been to I could think, No one is really watching so I don’t have to feel pressure. But at the Olympics, the whole world is watching,” she laughed.
“The hype of the Olympics was so much,” Biney remembered. “Before I went people were telling me, ‘Oh, the Olympics are huge. Everyone is going to be watching,’ and I was like yeah, yeah, sure, of course. But I was not expecting that huge hype.”
Besides the energy being different, she said it was, “amazing because you see so many people who love watching your sport — especially a sport like speedskating in Korea. Skating for them is so exciting. I loved it!”
2) A Lot Of Bobsledders Come From Track And Field
When Biney wasn’t training for her competition — or actually competing — she used the time to meet other athletes and check out some Olympic events. And as much as she wished she could have gone up to the mountains to cheer on her fellow Team USA athletes who competed in those venues, “I was so busy down in the coastal,” she said.
As a spectator she said she got to learn a lot about sports like bobsled and ice hockey.
“I learned that a lot of bobsledders actually come from track and field,” Biney said. It’s the sport she always answered when asked what she would do if she wasn’t a speedskater. “So I thought it was pretty cool how some of the Olympic bobsledders even went to the Olympics for track.”
Women’s hockey was another event she sat in on, even though it was too stressful a sport for her. “I got to watch hockey and I learned that hockey is so, so nerve-racking,” she said.
Watching the women compete in the gold-medal match, “I was so nervous for them,” Biney said. “And then when they went into overtime I was like, ‘Oh no!’ And then when they went to the shootout I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’”
She said the thing it taught her is that, “Hockey is a very stressful game that I would not want to join. Maybe for fun, but not for competition.”
3) Celebrities Are Just Regular People
After her disappointing finish in the 1,500, Biney was surprised when one of her biggest fans was there to console her, “Saturday Night Live” comedian Leslie Jones. The actress talked with the young athlete and reminded her that, “It’s your first Olympics. It’s not your last.”
Afterwards the two took selfies and went back in to cheer on Team USA’s John-Henry Krueger as he won silver in the men’s 1,000-meter.
“It was really exciting,” Biney remembered. “It was awesome sharing that moment with her.”
Now she’s learned what it’s like to hang out with a celebrity. “She was exactly as she is on camera,” she said. “She was just amazing.”
4) She Needs To Be Faster At The Start
Winning the 500-meter final at Olympic Trials in December not only secured Biney’s spot on the Olympic team, but it also made her the first African-American woman ever to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speedskating team. And despite the outcome in PyeongChang, she admitted that she needed to give herself some credit.
“This season has been one heck of a good season,” she reminisced. “But there are definitely a few things I need to change; like I need to be able to fix some of my technical problems. I have a lot of technical problems.”
For example, she said, she wants to be faster at the start.
“I need to be able to do starts with guys, so I can beat guys,” Biney said. And then that means I can beat girls.”
But she doesn’t want to get too far ahead of herself, because that was something she did at the Olympics and it got her in trouble.
“In PyeongChang, I was so focused on wanting to be in the next heat that I wasn’t really focused on the heat I was in,” she said. “So what I learned about myself is that I need to be in the present and not really look forward to the future, because it hasn’t happened.”
But if she did have to look to her future, she admitted that it is squarely focused on 2022. “I 100 percent want to go,” she said. “I know how much hard work I need to put in, so I’m ready to put in that hard work and just be really effective in the next four years.”
When it’s all said and done, she said her biggest goal is to “just be myself and make myself proud.”
5) The Winter Olympics Should Happen Every Two Years
Picking a favorite Olympic memory for Biney must be what it’s like for her fellow speedskater and role model Apolo Ohno to pick his favorite medal (he has eight!).
“I love that,” she said when asked the dreaded question, “but I also hate it because I have so many favorite memories.”
One memory that makes the top of her list is the opportunity it gave her to meet new people.
“I love meeting new people,” she gushed. “It was just so much fun. All the laughs I’ve had in the last month have been amazing. I want it to happen again.”
So, more Olympics?
“Yes! I learned that I’d like the Olympics to be like every two years,” she said. “That would be nice.”
6) She’s No Longer Intimidated – She’s The Intimidator!
The 2018 U. S. Olympic Team had six 17-year-olds on it. Biney — who turned 18 on Jan. 28 — missed that distinction by less than two weeks. She said that though she may be young, PyeongChang taught her a lot about herself, including what she’s made of.
“I think I am more experienced — both mentally and physically,” Biney said. “I’m really happy that I was able to get this experience this early and this young.”
When the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 rolls around, this young speedskater will no longer be a teenager. “I’ll be 22 years old,” she said. “And I’ll be way more experienced in everything.
“I already feel like I’m tougher. I’m still the happy and energetic girl, but I’m not really scared. I’m not intimidated. I’m the intimidator! Yeah, that’s it,” she giggled in her goofy, still teenage way.