KEARNS — Her smile may get her noticed.
But it's her talent that wins her fans.
“Oh, gosh,” said Maame Biney with a laugh when asked how she feels about being the face of US Speedskating.
Despite competing in the 2018 Olympics, Biney, just 18, is still as humble as ever, which is evident from her giggling at compliments and the laughs she exchanges with teammates during practice.
Still, the teen, who lived in Park City in the year before she made the 2018 Olympic team, has become not only a short track star but one carrying the hopes of Team USA.
Biney almost instantly became a fan favorite, and her popularity could soon rise to the level of former US short track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, as she has both a memorable personality and world-class abilities.
"I have to balance that out because I can't put so much pressure on myself that I'm not able to perform the way I know I can,” said Biney, who competed in the qualifying rounds of the ISU Short Track World Cup at the Utah Olympic Oval Friday.
In order to ensure she had the stamina to deal with the demands of the World Cup Circuit, Biney took fourth months away from the ice after the PyeongChang Olympics last February.
Practices, competitions, and multiple media requests became a lot for her to handle.
“I had to take a break and relax and just decompress from the whole skating world,” she said after practice Thursday morning. “Honestly, it kind of felt like I had a twin sister. She was the one skating and I was just there.”
Handling that outside pressure can be tough to navigate, but new National Team coach Wilma Boomstra says she can help Biney get through it.
“It is a little hard for her because she is very young,” said Boomstra. “She’s going to be amazing. She’s in a little bit of a different position right now because she was the underdog, you know? She could just do whatever she knew and then she became pretty big during the Olympics and now she’s kind of the face of US Speedskating.”
Boomstra is excited to be back with US Speedskating.
She was the national short track coach from 1993-95 before opening her own development training center in Los Angeles.
Boomstra was also a coaching consultant during the 2016-17 season for the US Team.
She took the national head coaching job after coaching in the Netherlands for three years.
She was excited to get a call from U.S. Speedskating officials in May asking if she’d be interested in becoming the head coach of the short track team.
Boomstra will lead the team through the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“The way I see it and the way US Speedskating sees it, it’s been a long time coming because I wasn’t in the US a long time but I was raising my kids in Los Angeles and I could not take a National position,” Boomstra said. “The timing was perfect right now so I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
She says Biney is just one of several skaters that will make the US Team better going forward in world competitions.
“The talent is there, but the missing pieces, I feel like I can now bring that to the table. I feel the grit, I need more grit,” she said. “I need more champion mentality. I need more fighters.”
The World Cup skaters competed in qualifying rounds Friday, and the races begin Saturday at 2 p.m. until about 6 p.m. They continue racing Sunday at 2 p.m., as well.
Boomstra prides herself on technique and efficiency when working with skaters, but she wants to see the team have more of an attitude when it comes to winning.Comment on this story
“Winning ugly is winning, too, you know?” Boomstra said. “So I just want to do whatever it takes for them to get to that level.”
So far, Biney loves the attitude and mentality Boomstra has brought to the team.
During Thursday's practice, the two were joking with each with Boomstra giving Biney a slight push during a playful moment on the ice.
“She is really intense but I really enjoy her and I’m really, really excited for the next four years,” said Biney. “We have had some good years, for sure, but I think the next four years are going to be super great.”
That’s just another reason for Biney to keep smiling.