This weekend, talented athletes from around the country came to Kearns, Utah, in hopes of securing a spot on the U.S. Olympic speedskating team. And for one of these athletes, the trials were particularly special, as 17-year old Maame Biney became the first black woman to make the team.
Biney, born in Ghana, moved to the United States with her father, Kweku, when she was 5 years old. Although Biney had never laced up a pair of skates when she first arrived, she started learning the sport at a club in Reston, Virginia, and quickly caught on from there.
Only 12 years after she first started to skate, Biney has secured a place on the U.S. Olympic team. On Saturday, she beat Lana Gehring, Jessica Kooreman, and Katherine Reutter-Adamek — all established Olympians — in a pair of 500-meter final races. At the finish line, Biney collapsed with excitement. As she told NBC News:
I can't believe it, aww geez. ... It's a really good feeling, but it has to set in first because it takes me a while. I'm like, "Holy cow."
Beyond being an important personal milestone for Biney, though, this is a milestone moment for athletes of color. Biney is the first black woman to make the U.S. Olympic speedskating team, breaking down barriers in a sport that has long struggled to foster diversity.
Richard Demak, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated, said that Biney's achievement would inspire a new generation of athletes.
Meanwhile, Meghan O'Keefe, the deputy editor at entertainment and pop culture site Decider, accurately predicted that Twitter would "lose their shit" over the phenom, particularly because of her inspiring story.
Biney is not the first foreign-born athlete to make a U.S. Olympic team — in fact, at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, 50 foreign-born athletes represented the United States, and eight of them brought home medals.
Still, black athletes have been historically marginalized in some Olympic sports. In 2016, POLITICO reported on "the Olympic color barrier" — the publication noted that while black athletes at the Rio de Janeiro games were dominating in sports where they traditionally succeeded, costlier sports like archery, cycling, and equestrian remained "blindingly white."
Indeed, speedskating is an expensive sport. According to a 2010 analysis by Forbes, the average cost that parents spend on speed skaters each year is $13,500. Those who are serious about qualifying for the Olympics often move to Salt Lake City to train, as Biney has.
Biney got her start with Inner City Excellence, an organization that promotes skating to "urban youth from all backgrounds," according to its website. The organization began in Washington, D.C., and has opened several outposts throughout the country.
Shani Davis is an honorary chairman of ICE, and is considered to be an inspiration for the organization's development. Davis was the first black athlete to make the U.S. Olympic speedskating team, and in 2006 became the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Games. Biney will follow in his footsteps as the first black woman on the team.
Now that Biney has made the Olympic team, she'll get to work on training for the 2018 Winter Games, beginning in February in PyeongChang, South Korea. Every member of the team will feel pressure to succeed this year — at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the U.S. team did particularly bad, winning just one medal for the men's short-track relay.
But it seems that if anyone has the attitude and stamina to take on this challenge, it's Biney. As fellow Olympian Jessica Kooreman said of the young athlete:
She's a fighter. She enjoys what she does. She's energetic and brings good enthusiasm to the team.
This positivity is sure to serve Biney well when she hits the ice to represent the United States in speedskating come February — as the first black woman to do so.