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September 25, 2023

U.S. Olympic speedskater Maame Biney is learning how to enjoy life again

U.S. Olympic speedskater Maame Biney is learning how to enjoy life again

Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.

Maame Biney is strong, powerful, confident and focused—not just as a two-time Olympic speedskater but as a young Black woman. It was a journey for her to be in the space she is now, a space she now understands she belongs and deserves to be in, but the road was anything but smooth.

Speedskating was a sport that came into her life by happenstance. Raised by a single father, Biney’s dad enrolled her in skating to keep his six-year-old daughter busy. Her instructor noticed how fast and powerful she was and suggested she move from figure to speedskating. She continued skating not with Olympic dreams in mind, but because it became a place where she felt happy and confident.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Biney was living life as a speedskater, a sport that is not talked about much, especially when it comes to women—then Biney showed up. She was a young Black woman who was good at what she did. When she qualified for the 2018 Olympics, she had no expectations other than to enjoy it—Biney’s mantra was “I’m just happy to be here.” That quickly changed when she was thrust into the spotlight as the first Black female Olympic speedskater, something the world had never seen. Biney delivered a lackluster performance. She was prepared physically, but her biggest competition wasn’t her world-class competitors—it was herself. Biney let the pressure affect what should have been her moment. It wasn’t just the pressure to perform, but also the spotlight that caused the 18-year-old to reach a breaking point from unwanted attention and social media opinions that she was not prepared to handle.

“Before the Olympics, I had like 500 followers on Instagram and I was living my best life. I was loving it, like, no problems,” Biney says. “Then after the Olympic trials suddenly, I had like 5,000 followers, and it just kept going. I was so stressed, and I remember just breaking down. I was so young; I was 18 and I don’t really like attention. All these people want me to do well. I got in my head, and I wasn’t skating for myself. There’s this expectation to perform and this expectation to represent the Black community and the Black girl community. It became a burden.”

After the 2018 Olympics, things got even more difficult for Biney—she considers ’19 the worst year of her life. She was pushed beyond her emotional breaking point not only from anxiety with the pending ’22 Olympics, but also a coach that pushed her past her emotional limits. For so long the sport was her happy space and passion, but she was ready to quit. She was drowning emotionally and knew she had to seek help.

“I was struggling a lot with depression and anxiety and not doing well in skating,” Biney says. “I prayed like I’ve never prayed in my life in 2019. I remember crying all the time in my room and praying to God and asking, Why is my brain like this?”

Biney’s faith and lots of therapy helped her pull through to prepare her emotionally for the Beijing Games, giving her the tools to cope and quiet the noise. She was ready, her 2022 mantra was “I’m skating for Maame.” She didn’t win a medal in Beijing, but this time that didn’t matter—she found herself and her place. As she confidently skated around that rink, she showed the world that Black women belong.

“I’ve been the only Black person in the room; I’ve been very aware of that. But there’s a reason why I’m here. And there’s a reason why God put me here, and I’m going to live up to that reason,” Biney says. “I just hope that I’m able to do it to the best of my abilities. I encourage other Black women to hold on to the belief that they’re there for a reason, and not to be scared to be the loudest person in the room. We have this stereotype that Black women are loud; it doesn’t matter. If someone’s trying to scream on top of you, scream louder.”

Biney is confident her medal will come and is focused as she prepares for the 2026 Olympics. While she holds the dream of winning a medal in her heart, it doesn’t take precedence over her emotional well-being. So, for now, Biney is creating a balanced life by taking a much-needed timeout that includes traveling, eating amazing food around the world and watching a good rom-com whenever she can. As she evolves and becomes a more self-aware woman, Biney is hoping to inspire other women to adopt her new mantra for ’26: “I deserve to be here.” As a Black female athlete who has redefined what strength and power looks like, Maame Biney is here for a reason.

“A strong Black woman is someone that can be strong in certain moments, even if they’re sad, depressed and aren’t strong, accepting that and being willing to ask for help,” Biney says. “It’s someone that can love themselves as they are and not care about what other people think. They’re able to walk in a room and own the room. Even if they’re the only Black woman in the room, just be like, You know what, I’m here for a reason.”

Senita Brooks is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.

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