Maame Biney has a lot on her mind these days.
There’s finishing high school for one. And there’s competing in the 2018 Winter Olympicsfor another.
At 17 years old, Biney is the first African-American woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speedskating team.
When HuffPost spoke with Biney this week, she was busy preparing to compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month. In typical teenager fashion, she’s mostly excited to eat. “Korean food is SO GOOD,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to that.”
It’s a landmark year for black athletes at the winter games. Three Nigerian women make up Africa’s first ever bobsled team. Erin Jackson is the first black woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic long-track skating team.
Being the first anything in any field can bring an expectation to represent something bigger than oneself. But Biney told HuffPost the only pressure she is feeling ― if any at all ― is about making the most out of the experience.
“I don’t really feel pressure to be the first to get a medal or anything like that,” she said. “I just want to go out there, do my best and have fun, and experience the Olympics. That’s what I’m here for. I’m here to win, obviously, but also have fun.”
Fun is really the only word to sum up Biney’s media presence thus far. She is giddy in interviews ― making the team was “crazy awesome,” she’s said ― and oozes a palpable freshness and excitement about what she’s accomplished. She was so excited after crossing the finish line and qualifying at the trials last month that she fell down, “laughing all the way,” according to NBC.
At over 5 million views and counting, her Olympic qualifying 500-meter race alone is obviously making an impact on new fans.
Her groundbreaking appearance at the games might not weigh heavily on her, but she does acknowledge ― and appreciates ― her ability to inspire other women to break barriers.
“I am super-honored to be able to be part of this, because I know that us African American girls and women haven’t been able to be in this situation before,” she said. “I’m really honored to inspire other women, African American or any other race, to get out there and do what you can and succeed.”
Her new label as “first” is so deeply ingrained in the buzz around her, it’s difficult to separate Biney the teenager from Biney in the headlines. She has been asked to talk about it a lot, perhaps even more than maybe she’d like to. She told HuffPost all the talking has been the biggest change in her life so far.