Maame Biney, J.R. Celski make U.S. Olympic short track team
17-year-old Maame Biney raced away from the field (twice) to win both women's 500m finals and earn an Olympic berth on the second day of the U.S. Team Trials for short track.
The explosive skater held off Lana Gehring, who qualified for the Olympics yesterday through victories in the 1500m, in the first final and then finished ahead of 2014 Olympian Jessica Kooreman by about half a second in the second final.
The third and final member of the U.S. women's short track team will be determined tomorrow, when the 1000m is contested and the short track Olympic Trials wrap up.
Biney will become the second African-born athlete to represent the U.S. at the Winter Olympics, and the first since biathlete Dan Westover in 1998. Biney was born in Ghana and moved to Virginia with her father, Kweku, at five years old.
When she was six, her father saw a sign advertising a "Learn to skate" program and asked his daughter if she'd like to try it. He had to explain to her what ice skating was, since she had never encountered one in Ghana.
But she quickly took to the sport. Her current coach, Anthony Barthell, told the AP that Biney is "a natural athlete."
“Most natural athletes have a hard transition to skating because speedskating is so unnatural," he said. "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.”
Biney won a bronze medal in the 500m at the 2017 Junior World Championships, and made her debut on the World Cup circuit this fall.
In the men's 500m, Aaron Tran won the first 500m final. The world record holder in the distance and the most decorated athlete at the short track Olympic Trials, J.R. Celski, was missing from the race after he crashed in the quarterfinals.
In the second 500m races, Celski safely made it through the early rounds to qualify for the final. When Celski crossed the finish line--in second place, behind John-Henry Krueger--Tran turned to him and asked, "Does that mean we're Olympians?"
Yes. Krueger claimed the first spot on the U.S. Olympic team yesterday by earning the most overall points in the men's 1500m finals. Celski had the second-most overall points in the 1500m, so when Krueger came out on top in the 500m as well, a spot on the team opened for Celski. Then Tran earned his place by earning the second-most overall points in the 500m finals.
While the U.S. women only earned three Olympic berths in short track, the U.S. men earned five, so two more spots remain up for grabs.