Two-Time Olympian Maame Biney on Being an Example in a 'Sport That Isn't Predominantly Black'

"I hope to do the best that I can and make them proud but also, ultimately, like make myself proud," short track speed skater Maame Biney tells PEOPLE

Olympians to Watch
Maame Biney. Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/International Skating Union via Getty

Maame Biney is proving to the next generation that anything is possible.

In celebration of Black History Month, the two-time Olympic short track speed skater recently spoke to PEOPLE about the importance of visibility. For Biney, she hopes audiences and people of color feel inspired by watching her compete in the almost entirely white sport.

"My life goal is to be able to inspire people," said the athlete, who began speed skating at 6 years old.

"If that's two minutes of their life talking to me or even like, if I've known them for five-plus years, I hope to somewhat inspire them," Biney said. "And even if they see me on TV for like a split second, I hope they are able to be like, 'Oh my gosh, wow, there's a Black woman on TV right now in a sport that isn't predominantly Black.' "

Biney, who was born in Ghana and calls Virginia her home state, added, "I hope to do the best that I can and make them proud but also, ultimately, like make myself proud."

The star celebrated her 22nd birthday en route to Beijing with her Team USA friends surprising her with balloons and cheers during the flight.

At the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, the star became the youngest skater and first Black woman to make a U.S. Olympic short track speedskating team. She was the second-ever African-born athlete to represent the U.S. in the Winter Olympics.

Erin Jackson
Erin Jackson. Courtesy US Speedskating

Also in Beijing, Biney's friend and two-time Olympic long track speed skater Erin Jackson is hoping to inspire. During the Opening Ceremony on Friday, the Florida native spoke to NBC about why representation matters.

"I just try to be a good example whenever I can. Especially with young Black girls, and you know really anyone, with the winter Olympics you don't see a whole lot of diversity so I hope I can be someone who they can see and be like, 'Oh maybe I'll go out and try one of these sports.' That would be awesome," the 29-year-old said.

In 2018, Jackson became the first Black woman to be on Team USA's long track speed skating team and qualified for Pyeongchang after learning to speed skate just four months prior. (Jackson, who also excels at inline skating, didn't start on ice skates until 24 years old.)

As the current No. 1 in the world, Jackson is the favorite to take gold and has the chance to become the first Black American woman to win an Olympic medal in speed skating.

Audiences can cheer on Biney during the Feb. 7 quarterfinals of the women's 500m short track event. Meanwhile, Jackson makes her debut in Beijing on Feb. 12 in the women's 500m long track event.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning Feb 3, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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