Biney, girl from Ghana, becomes American Olympic sweetheart

 07 Feb 2018 - 16:07

Biney, girl from Ghana, becomes American Olympic sweetheart
Photo: Reuters

AFP

Gangneung, South Korea: Ghana-born Maame Biney has become an Olympic sweetheart with an infectious smile and teen joy at being the first female African-American Olympian in short-track speed skating.

But don't mess with her when she takes the ice at Pyeongchang, starting with Saturday's 500m qualifying -- her game face will be on.

"It's like, 'Don't be in my way 'cause I'm probably going to kill you,'" Biney said before laughing and then being shocked, fearful her honesty might offend.

"I think I'm fierce and strong. Sometimes I overreact to things... When I get on that line, I'll be like 'Holy Moley. I'm actually here. This is the Olympics."

Usually not one for attention, Biney has soaked up the South Korean spotlight.

"It has been crazy, like cameras everywhere. It has been awesome and I'm going to soak it all up like a sponge," she said. "I just keep smiling. Smiles bring smiles to people. And I'm happy."

Her journey from Africa to Pyeongchang began at age five when she went to visit her dad, fell in love with America and decided to stay, something she sees as a secret to her success.

"I think it stems from the fact I don't take things for granted," she said. "Things (in Ghana) aren't as good as things in America."

Her father, Kweku, was suddenly a single parent. He suggested she try figure skating. The coach suggest short track.

"My dad has been a big part of my journey," she said. "He moved from Ghana to America to get a better life. He never expected me to stay as long as I did. He has given up a lot to make my dream come true."

After she turned 18 last week, Kweku bought his daughter her long-awaited first phone, which brought fist pumps and smiles.

"It was a big moment," she said.

She speaks by phone weekly to her mother in Ghana and plans her first visit since 2014 later this year.

Instagram overload 

Biney has already texted Ghana's first Winter Olympian, Pyeongchang skeleton slider Akwasi Frimpong.

"We're going to meet up and hang out," she said. "It's going to be so cool."

Apolo Ohno, a US star who won eight Olympic short track medals, calls Biney the new face of American short track.

"I'm glad he said that," she said. "That's so cool."

And she takes her African-American pioneer role seriously.

"It feels very inspiring because I want to inspire kids all over the world," she said. "I want to give them the inspiration to do whatever they love."

After the US Olympic trials, she went from 500 Instagram followers to 5,000 in a week. But excitement turned to overload.

"I wanted to take it all in and that was too much for me. I took just a sip and I was drinking and drinking," she said. "It kind of overwhelmed me but I'm getting better about it."

Biney, who spent the past seven months in Utah training, will attend the University of Utah as she prepares for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. But her focus now is here.

"I feel very good and really excited," she said. "Everything is so big. Short track is a big sport in Korea so the crowd is going to be big."

Biney, who brought her poop emoji doll and a purple blanket as comfort items, is a "movie person" who can't wait to see the new Avengers movie in May.

Chris Hemsworth's Thor is her favorite Avenger. As for why... "Oh my God," she said before flexing her arm muscles and put on her game face.