Maame Biney

Maame Biney, J.R. Celski join U.S. Olympic short track team

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Maame Biney will become the second African-born athlete to compete for the U.S. at the Winter Olympics and the first black woman on a speed skating team.

J.R. Celski, a three-time medalist, is going to a third Winter Games.

Biney, Celski and Aaron Tran qualified in short track at the Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, after the 500m on Saturday.

The team is now at five skaters — John-Henry Krueger and Lana Gehring qualified on the first night Friday.

Three more skaters will qualify Sunday after 1000m races — two men and one woman.

One of Katherine Reutter-Adamek and Jessica Kooreman, the top U.S. women at the last two Olympics, is guaranteed to miss the PyeongChang team.

Neither could keep up with the 17-year-old Biney, who moved to the D.C. area from Ghana with her father at age 5, on Saturday. More on Biney’s personal story here.

Biney swept the 500m finals, taking leads from the start and holding off more experienced women. She actually fell — while celebrating after crossing the finish line in the last race.

Afterward, NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce told Biney that eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno believes Biney doesn’t know how good she is.

“People have been telling me that forever, and I think right now I’m kind of seeing it, but I feel like I have a long ways to go, but thanks Apolo,” said Biney, who won a junior world championships bronze medal last season.

Celski did not win the men’s 500m, where he is the world-record holder. Krueger did, with Tran in second.

But the fact that Krueger finished in the top two in Friday’s 1500m and the 500m means that Celski gets on the team via his second-place finish in the 1500m.

Celski won two bronze medals at the 2010 Olympics and another relay silver in Sochi.

He took a full season off after Sochi — undergoing hip surgery — and overcame further knee and back injuries the last two years to return to the World Cup podium this season.

Celski is the only American to earn an individual World Cup medal this season (a bronze) in 24 total races.

Celski won’t be able to race the 500m in PyeongChang if Thomas Hong makes the Olympic team on Sunday.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic short track skater gets 4-year doping ban

U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK

U.S. Olympic short track trials preview, broadcast schedule

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Olympic medalists J.R. Celski and Katharine Reutter-Adamek headline the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating trials, live on NBC, NBCSN and streaming on NBCOlympics.com from Friday through Sunday.

The top five men and three women from trials in Kearns, Utah, will make up the U.S. Olympic team for Pyeongchang.

The best Olympic medal prospects lie with the men, four of whom teamed up in November to break the 5000m relay world record. The only U.S. speed skating medal in Sochi — a silver — came in that relay.

Celski anchored that relay, earning his third Olympic medal. Celski debuted at the Winter Games in 2010, earning bronzes in the 1500m and the relay five months after needing 60 stitches to sew a left-leg gash caused by his own skate blade in a fall.

He’s also the only U.S. skater to earn an individual World Cup medal in the last 13 months, a pair of bronzes.

Each day at trials, the men and women will twice skate rounds of one of three individual Olympic distances (1500m on Friday, 500m on Saturday and 1000m on Sunday).

For the men, the top two skaters each day are in line to make the Olympic team, unless that results in six different men.

In that case, the runner-up skater with the lowest standing combining all six races will not make the Olympic team. Basically, if and when a skater gets top two in two distances, everyone in the top two for all distances is safe.

If taking the top two each day results in fewer than five different men, then the Olympic team will be rounded out by the next highest-ranked skaters in overall standings combining all six races.

For the women, the winner of each distance will make the Olympic team. If a woman wins multiple distances, then second-ranked skaters in each distance come into play, with priority given to the runner-up with the highest ranking combining all six races.

If the same two women finish first and second in every distance, then the final Olympic spot will go to the third-ranked woman in the 1500m, the only event where the U.S. earned the maximum three Olympic spots.

The U.S. women earned three Olympic spots rather than the maximum five because they failed to qualify a relay for the Olympics for the second straight time.

If Celski is the men’s favorite, then John-Henry Krueger is right behind.

Krueger was the No. 2 U.S. man behind Celski in the fall World Cup season and is the only U.S. skater other than Celski to earn an individual World Cup medal in this Olympic cycle.

The 22-year-old based in the Netherlands was favored to make the 2014 Olympic team but contracted swine flu the week of trials and missed out.

Celski is the only man with Olympic experience competing this week.

The U.S. women are in the midst of a 5 1/2-year World Cup medal drought, but they have experience and a bright young talent.

Reutter-Adamek was the world’s No. 2 skater in 2011 but retired in 2013 due to back and hip injuries. She came out of retirement in 2016 and broke her American record in the 1000m at her second World Cup.

She missed this fall’s first two World Cups due to a January concussion but was the top American at the most recent World Cup in the 1000m and 1500m.

Jessica Kooreman won the 2014 Olympic Trials — and was fourth in the 1000m in Sochi — and looks primed to make her second Olympic team at age 34. She ranks first or second among Americans this season in all three Olympic distances.

Then there’s Maame Biney, a 17-year-old who moved to the D.C. area from Ghana with her father at age 5.

Biney is the top U.S. woman internationally in the 500m after breaking out in August by winning the overall standings in the U.S.’ World Cup qualifier. She also placed seventh overall at last season’s junior worlds, including a bronze in the 500m.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic short track skater gets 4-year doping ban

U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK

An unlikely path from Ghana to possible U.S. Winter Olympic spot

AP
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KEARNS, Utah (AP) — Maame Biney seems like the typical teenager. She giggles with her friends, is making her way through the Harry Potter movies and wants to go to homecoming.

But that’s where typical ends for the 17-year-old speed skating phenom.

Biney is on a path to be the next great U.S. short track skater with the Olympics six months way. The junior world championships bronze medalist won the World Cup qualifier this weekend against Olympians and skaters 10-plus years her senior.

She won three of six finals over the three days and should be named to her first World Cup team on Tuesday.

Biney is intimidated, sure, but that hasn’t stopped her from chasing her dreams.

“Before I came here in the month of June, I had a week worth of dreams about going to the Olympics,” Biney said. “I woke up and was like, ‘[Gasp], oh no, I’m not there!’

“But I’m so excited to go if I make it. And I really want to make it. … [It would be] mind-blowing.”

The journey to this point has been a bit random. Biney, born in 2000, moved to the U.S. from Ghana to be with her father at 5 years old. She was supposed to be coming for a short visit and cried her eyes out when she first arrived.

Her father, Kweku, had to pull the car over three times after picking Maame up from the airport to settle her down. She wanted to go home. But a trip to the mall and J.C. Penney started to change her mind, and soon afterward Maame was repeatedly asking to stay.

Kweku was living in Rockville, Md., and found a school and daycare and their new life began. One day they were driving down the street in Reston, Va., and Kweku looked over and saw a sign that read “Learn To Skate This Fall.” He asked Maame if she was interested, and that’s how it all started.

Ice skating isn’t exactly a popular endeavor in Ghana, so she didn’t know anything about the sport. She’d never seen a rink, but Kweku signed her up anyway.

“We weren’t looking for anything, we were just driving around,” Kweku said. “She didn’t even know what skating was. She didn’t even know what that word was and I explained it to her.

“Only thing cold in Ghana is cold beer.”

Maame was a natural. It didn’t take long before the coach suggested speed skating.

Twelve years later, Maame has moved to Salt Lake City to train in hopes of making the Olympic team. The short track trials begin Dec. 15, where up to five women could qualify for PyeongChang.

Editor’s Note: One athlete in U.S. Winter Olympic history was born in Africa — biathlete Dan Westover, who was born in Madagascar and competed at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon. Biney and skeleton slider Nathan Crumpton, who was born in Kenya, could both make the PyeongChang team.

Kweku suggested taking the year off from high school, but she didn’t want to fall behind. Maame wanted to graduate with her friends, so the school arranged for her to take online classes to stay on track while she trains.

Those types of decisions are the hardest part for Maame, who misses out on many of the normal teenage trappings.

“I feel like that’s the worst part of skating 24-7, not being able to go to homecoming the last three years and not able to hang out with my friends whenever they want to do something,” Maame said through another bout of laugher. “It’s like, ‘Oh, no, I can’t, I have practice.’ I like it, because I also have friends here. So it’s kind of like a win-win kind of situation, in a way.

“Not having a very good social life, I guess. I’m surrounded by speed skaters all the time, and I’m not saying anything bad about them or anything, but we’re not the most mature people in the world. We are not. Even though I’m 17, I feel like I’m a 12-year-old. I am not ready to be 18 in four months.”

That youthfulness also leads to a lack of confidence. Biney was the second American woman since 1996 to earn a junior worlds medal, but she still doubts herself competing against Olympians like Jessica Kooreman, Lana Gehring and Katherine Reutter-Adamek.

National team coach Anthony Barthell and the team psychologist work with Biney on getting out of her own head. Barthell said experience will help as she better learns to master her trade.

“She’s a natural athlete,” Barthell said. “Most natural athletes have a hard transition to skating because speedskating is so unnatural. It goes against everything you’re taught as an athlete. So for her, she’s learned how to skate and is able to use her natural athletic abilities.

“In my eyes, I feel she can be one of the top girls in the world. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but she has the potential.”

Kooreman remembers hearing about Biney four years ago from her coach and Gehring. At 33, Kooreman is aiming for her second Olympics and first medal while 16 years older than Biney.

“Her mentality as a skater and her personality … she reminds me a little bit of myself,” Kooreman said. “She’s a fighter. She enjoys what she does. She’s energetic and brings good enthusiasm to the team.

“It’s nice to have new blood out there and young blood that’s wanting to learn and excited to just skate every day.”

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