Many of the athletes competing at this weekend’s ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating in Salt Lake City have travelled thousands of miles to be in Utah. Not so Maame Biney, who lives just 10 minutes up the street from Utah Olympic Oval.
USA athlete Biney, a student at the University of Utah, is looking to make an impact in her second senior ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating season. Earlier this year she won her first senior medals, picking up bronzes in Torino in the Ladies’ 500m and the 2000m Relay, just a couple of weeks after winning 500m gold at the ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Montreal.
Maame Biney (right) takes 500m bronze at the World Cup event in Torina, Italy, in February 2019, alongside Elise Christie (GBR, silver) and Martina Valpecina (ITA, gold) ©International Skating Union (ISU)
But the run-up to the 2019/20 ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating campaign has not been an entirely smooth ride for the 19-year-old.
“This past summer has been really tough, but I’ve pushed through,” she says. “I just had a lot going on in my brain.
“I was struggling about whether I felt good - you always want to feel good and be fast on the ice. I was down all the time.”
She credits her coach Wilma Boomstra for helping her through the difficult period, pointing out that it was not necessarily important to feel fast in July when the first competition is not until November.
Coach Wilma Boomstra and Maame Biney (USA) at the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“There’s no point worrying about something that’s going to happen in three or four months,” Biney laughs.
The young skater, who represented USA at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games, has also made some adjustments to the rest of her life. Instead of starting her second year at the University of Utah in September she has taken a break for the semester to focus on skating.
As a compromise for her father, who would have preferred Biney to keep studying full-time, she will take some online classes in the second semester and keep picking away at her degree while continuing to put her skating first. To help support herself, the teenager has picked up a part-time job in a store.
“I’ve learned that if I’m doing skating 24/7 that’s not good for my brain,” Biney says. “It’s really working out for me well, because I get to be outside the skating atmosphere and create new relationships.”
Getting to compete in a World Cup on home ice is special. Biney’s new work colleagues were invited along, although she did not tell her boss that she is an Olympian - he found out after Googling her once she had revealed she was on the USA Short Track Speed Skating team.
“It’s nerve-wracking in a way because I want to do really well on our home ice, and do our country proud,” she says about taking to the ice at the Olympic Oval.
Biney takes to the ice at Utah Olympic Oval on Saturday ©International Skating Union (ISU)
Biney competed in the Ladies’ 500m on both days of the World Cup, reaching the quarterfinals on day one, and the repechage semifinals on day two. She also helped USA to fourth place in the Mixed Gender Relay on Saturday.
The power-packed short distance has become her speciality. She has contested the 1000m internationally, but claims she gets “too tired, too quickly” as the race goes on.
Although she failed to reach the final in the 500m in Utah, the main thing the effervescent Biney - still three months shy of her 20th birthday - wants to get out of this season’s World Cup Short Track Speed Skating is the opportunity to learn.
“The worst I can get is experience - you can never lose experience,” she says.