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Meet Maame Biney, the first black woman to compete as a U.S. Olympic speed skater

Maame Biney is the first black woman to compete as an U.S. Olympic speedskater. (Photo: Getty Images/Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

Over the past few decades, there have been some amazing “firsts” for women of color competing in the Olympics. In the late 1940s, Alice Coachman became the first black woman to win a gold medal for track and field. Cheryl Miller helped Team USA’s women’s basketball squad earn their spot on the podium. Then there’s Venus and Serena Williams, both of whom have medals in their massive trophy rooms. And, most recently, gymnast Gabby Douglas, made history by becoming the first African-American to win the individual all-around event at the 2012 Olympic summer games — and then teammate Simone Biles followed her lead four years later.

At the 2018 PyeongChang Games, Maame Biney‘s set to take her place in history next to the aforementioned greats as the first black woman to be on the U.S. Olympic speed skating team. “I’m super honored to have that title,” she shares with Yahoo Lifestyle. “It means that I get to inspire young kids, even adults in the world, to do something different and be the first to do something in their family or in the world.”

 

At 17, Biney, who was born in Ghana, is charming, gracious, and excited about everything coming her way. Set to compete in the 500- and 1,500-meter races — Biney’s ready to kick some hiney.

Maame Biney has a lot to smile about and couldn’t be happier about her recent win to compete with Team USA. (Photo: Getty Images)

Yahoo Lifestyle: How does it feel to be the first black woman to compete on a U.S. Olympic speedskating team? 

Maame Biney: It feels really good because I’m super honored to have that title. It means that I get to inspire young kids, even adults in the world to do something different and be the first to do something in their family or in the world.

What’s one of the first things you do everyday to keep your confidence so high?

I don’t do anything special. I just wake up. I eat a healthy breakfast, and then during my warmups I listen to music and my playlist which has songs that pump me up for whatever I have to do on the ice or wherever I need to focus. Sometimes, if I know that I’m going to overthink things, listening to music will distract me from what I have to do — even though sometimes that’s not the best thing.

What kind of songs get you pumped up before skating?

Actually, it’s a song that you wouldn’t really think would get me pumped up, but right now it’s Ed Sheeran’s Perfect. That song gets me in the mood all the time.

What kind of foods do you use to help fuel your body? 

I’m not really on a particular or strict diet. I just eat. For breakfast, I have pancakes and sometimes eggs. For lunch, I have meat or a sandwich. Then for dinner, it varies. I sometimes have fish, chicken sausage, pasta or something similar. I always have vegetables with my dinner as well. That makes me feel super refreshed and good for the next day.

What’s your beauty and hair routine like?

For my braids, they last a few months. Honestly, the braids aren’t really my decision. They are my dad’s decision because he thinks that it will make it easier for me, which I appreciate but sometimes I want to wear my real hair out. But it’s okay, I kind of like it right now. I’ve also always loved buns, and usually always wear one for warm ups at least. However, I never wear a bun while I’m skating because it’s not going to fit in my helmet. For beauty, all I do is just take a shower and at least have something clean on — because it’s not good if you go around smelling.


When you get ready to compete and have to go away, what’s something surprising that you tend to always pack?

I always have my purple blanket with me wherever I go. It’s not a good luck thing or anything, but I got it for a Christmas present a few years ago, and I always have it in the car with me or take it on a plane wherever I travel. Another skater’s parents gave it to me, and it’s lasted a long time.

You’ve already become an Olympic speedskater at 17-years-old. Do you feel like you’ve had to make any sacrifices?

I’m for sure not a typical 17-year-old because I do a sport that does demand a lot of time. I barely have any time to hang out with my friends, go shopping, watch a movie or go to a party or something. I always had to say no. There’s usually a one percent chance where I can say yes to doing something, and it would be because my coach was sick or no one else can coach the team for the day. But yes, there are definitely a lot of sacrifices on both my dad’s side and my side. My dad most definitely took more of the sacrifices than I had to take.

What keeps you motivated to keep pushing through, even with some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make?

My dad really pushes me to do what I love even when I’m having a really bad day or a really bad month. My dad does not force me to do anything that I don’t want to do and I really appreciate that. At the same time, that’s motivation for me because it’s okay, my dad knows that I love the sport but he also knows that forcing me to do it isn’t going to help me. So I kind of force myself. My dad is the biggest motivation for me to keep going for a long time.

You are competing in a sport that isn’t traditionally dominated by black athletes. Have you had to face any challenges? How does that make you feel?

No, I have never faced any challenge of not being accepted or not feeling like I belong. I have a really big community here in Salt Lake, Park City. Back at home, my dominion club and at school, everyone supports what I do and they’re all so proud of me. I’ve never felt this love before, which is amazing. I thank everyone.

It seems like you’re surrounded by a lot of people, a lot of love. Who are your biggest supporters? Who is in your support circle?

Oh my, that’s a lot of people. I honestly can’t name all the names because it would take so long but there are so many people. My Park City family, my host family and then there’s another family who’s taken me in as one of their own, which is amazing. Then, there is my Salt Lake City family, the U.S. speed skating family has really taken me in and then the national team. I also have my friends at home who have really understood what I’ve been going through. There’s also my dominion family, and of course, overall, I have my dad. I have a lot of people who have been supporting me and I honestly can’t name out all the names because it would take forever.


Is there any woman in particular right now that inspires you?

Yes, Simone Biles, Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas, Beyonce. All those African American women have really stood out and really changed the world and how people see them. That’s what I aspire to be because then all the little kids who want to be in a sport or something, a winter sport especially, they can really say, ‘I can also do that because Maame Biney’s doing it.’

Outside of training and competing, what do you do outside of speed skating?

I really like Netflix. Netflix is like my boyfriend. I go cry to Netflix. If I have a bad day, Netflix is always there for me. Netflix is my hobby.

When the Olympics are all said and done, what self-care practices do you plan to partake in?

After the Olympics, I plan on going to college out here in Salt Lake University of Utah. I want to continue on with my life. I want to study chemical engineering because I really love chemistry, but I don’t know what I want to do with the chemical engineer degree just yet.


If you win, will you dedicate your medal to and why?

I would dedicate the medal for sure to my dad, 100%. He has sacrificed. He has given up his life in order for me to succeed and be where I am right now. Regardless of whether I win or I don’t get a medal at all, all of this, the experience that I’m about to have, the fun that I am about to have, is all automatically dedicated to him because he’s the one who’s put me through and sacrificed everything. Obviously, I have a lot of people too but I think my dad is in the middle of it. My dad will definitely get the dedication. If I win any more medals, all the medals will be dedicated to him too.

What’s have been  your hardest and best parts about competing so far?

The hardest part is definitely staying motivated. I know it sounds kind of weird, ‘why wouldn’t you be motivated to go to the Olympics?’ I feel like for speed skating, because it’s so rigorous and really hard to do for a long time, sometimes you just don’t want to do it. Being motivated and staying motivated has really been the hardest part.

The best part has been the people that I have with me in order to be where I am right now. I wouldn’t trade anything for the moments that I’ve had with my friends, my coaches and people who have been in my life.

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