Lausanne, Switzerland

#OneHandDown               #ShortTrackSkating

Maame Biney (USA) WJSTSSC 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1089881876

Maame Biney (USA) at the ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

One year on from having the world’s attention thrust upon her at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, Maame Biney (USA) is mightily relieved to just be one of a number of highly talented young Short Track Speed Skaters attempting to break into the upper echelons of the sport.

The teenager, born in Accra, Ghana but raised primarily in the USA, found herself at the center of a media storm in Korea with the press delighting in her extraordinary story and megawatt smile. And while she loved the experience, it clearly took a toll.

“That stress that I had was beyond me,” she said. “I think I can handle literally anything now because I had so much stress on me, not because of anyone else but because of myself. I am super happy that it happened but I am glad that I am able to move forward.”

The moving forward came by first taking a step away.

“Having nothing to do with skating for four or five months was definitely something I needed,” Biney laughed, as she often does.

Friends and studies replaced skates and weights post-PyeongChang as Biney headed to college. Thankfully for the sporting world, the urge to race did not lie dormant for long. By October last year the student was back on the ice, although it was not quite as smooth a return as she’d been expecting.

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 

Fair vibes🎡 📸: @aarxnhexphoto

A post shared by Maame Afua Biney (@biney.biney) on

“It was horrible, terrible, I lost all hope the first day,” Biney said, the laugh uproarious this time. “All my teammates were getting faster and faster while I was below what I had done the previous year. But through talking to the team psych (psychology trainer) and our coaches and my teammates they helped me realize that it was OK that I was doing 10.5 (-second laps) while trying my hardest.”

Maame Biney (USA) WJSTSSC 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 927079118

Maame Biney (USA) at the ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

Being as naturally hard-working and talented as she is, the speed did return quickly and, last month in Montreal, Canada, Biney went out and won gold in the 500m at the ISU Junior World Championships, smashing the Junior World Record in the process.

Despite such remarkable performances, Biney does struggle with self-confidence, reminding you that while she has achieved so much and been through more, she is still just 19 years old.

“I am super excited that it happened,” she said of her record-breaking efforts in Montreal. “But I wasn’t going for it and I feel like if I had been going for it, it would have put too much stress on me.”

And when asked, just before she reached the semi-finals of the 500m at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating stop in Dresden, Germany, whether she felt like she belonged at the elite-level, Biney’s answer further portrayed her uncertainties.

Maame Biney (USA) WJSTSSC 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1089874042

Maame Biney (USA) at the ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

“I feel more like I belong now but at the same time there is always going to be part of me that says, ‘No I don’t belong, these girls are too fast,” she said, giggling. “But we are working on that and hopefully by the next Olympics (Beijing 2022) I will just be, ‘Yes I belong here and yes I am here to win,’ – just a straight answer.”

Maame Biney (USA) WJSTSSC 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1090287880

Maame Biney (USA) at the ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

In fact, Biney is so split between confidence and doubt that she relies on her famous alter-ego ‘Anna Digger’ when racing on the ice. Miss Digger, who understandably generated plenty of column inches at PyeongChang 2018, is a strutting, all-conquering badass skater with no time for anything but winning.

“I find it super, super helpful because if the happy, energetic Maame was on the ice she would just let everyone go, she would be super shy, super timid,” Biney explained, the smile wider than ever. “Having Anna on the ice with me makes me more calm.

“She was definitely in the race I did the world record (in). I can still picture it in my mind, 100%. Maame was somewhere out in the world, floating, not even there and then Anna was like, ‘You are doing this, here you go’. And she did it.”

It is yet another hugely endearing facet of Biney’s character but it also serves as a reminder of the multitude of full-on challenges she has faced in her 19 years. The skater’s mother and brother still live in Ghana and when asked whether they are in contact, the answer is: “Yeah and no, I guess. It’s a really complicated situation.”

The University of Utah student is clearly deeply attached to her dad who has taken care of her by himself since she was five years old. Not that the relationship has always been easy.

“I owe him the world. When he gets old and cranky and wrinkly I am going to take care of him,” Biney said. “But it is tough. He’s a guy, he doesn’t want to talk to me about boys, about anything else but school and skating. And I am like, ‘Daddy, I want to talk about something other than that’. But I have friends for that. I can blab to them all day long about guys and love and all that fun stuff.”

Maame Biney (USA) WJSTSSC 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1089874044

Maame Biney (USA) at the ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

Any which way you look at it, planet Biney is a wildly exciting place to be and with her talent allied to the drive of ‘Anna Digger’, there is plenty more to look forward to.