Meet Virginia’s 4 Winter Olympics Athletes
By Caitlin Barbieri, Alexandra Sosik, Yasmine Jumaa and Sophia Belletti
Virginia Skier Prepares for her Third Olympics
By Caitlin Barbieri
While most of Virginia shuts down at the threat of snow, Ashley Caldwell thrives in it.
Caldwell, 24, started practicing gymnastics at 4, and after watching the freestyle skiers in the 2006 Winter Olympics, she was inspired to take her talents to the snow. Now, Caldwell is competing in her third Olympic Games.
An Ashburn native, Caldwell and her parents quickly realized suburban Northern Virginia was not the best place to start a career in skiing. So at 14, she moved to Lake Placid to train with the U.S National Development team. Two years later, Caldwell was the youngest American to compete in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“We’ve been together from the beginning, through all the new tricks, hard workouts, crashes, injuries and victories,” Caldwell said. “It’s an honor to be competing alongside my teammates knowing that they are my friends and that we all are genuinely cheering each other on.”
Among five freestyle skiing events in the Winter Olympics — moguls, aerials, ski halfpipe, ski cross, and ski slopestyle — Caldwell competes in ladies’ aerials, in which she skis off a 2- to 4-meter jump and attempts tricks such as flips and twists.
Caldwell is best known for her trick — the full, full, full — which involves three somersaults while twisting her body. This trick is traditionally performed by men; at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Caldwell was the only female to attempt the trick, and she completed it.
“I’ve said over the years that when I started this sport, I always wanted to ‘jump like the boys,’ but I don’t believe that anymore,” Caldwell said. “I don’t like qualifying my goals with a gender expectation. I want to jump my best, regardless of gender. I want to be treated like Ashley. I’m proud of being a female, but I don’t want to let that define my expectations as an athlete.”
Caldwell’s career stalled in December 2011 when she tore the ACL in her right knee and a year later when she tore her ACL in her left knee. Those injuries didn’t stop her from skiing, though: In 2014, she competed in the Sochi Games.
“One of my biggest struggles in preparing for this Olympics has been injury and doubt,” Caldwell told Capital News Service. “I push myself very hard, and that motivation has led to several heartbreaking injuries over the years, but also mild injuries that can make it so much harder to compete your best.”
Caldwell’s most recent triumph was at the 2017 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships in Spain, where she took first place.
Caldwell’s first appearance in Pyeongchang will be Thursday in the ladies’ aerials qualification. She is looking forward to the event.
“I’m prepared to be unprepared. I’m ready for anything that comes at me during this Games,” Caldwell said.
Powhatan Bobsledder Represents Team USA
By Alexandra Sosik
Hakeem Abdul-Saboor will compete for Team USA in South Korea in about a week. But before he could call himself an Olympic bobsledder, the 2005 Powhatan High School graduate was a triple-threat athlete and bodybuilder.
He served as captain of the track and field team, played basketball and excelled at football, leading his team to a career record of 36–3. He went on to accept a scholarship to play Division II football for the University of Virginia at Wise.
“Hakeem is probably the best all-around athlete I have ever coached,” UVa-Wise head coach Dewey Lusk said on Abdul-Saboor’s website.
Abdul-Saboor played running back for Wise until 2009 when he tore his ACL four games into his senior season. He said that injury ended both his college and potential professional football career.
In an interview with NBC Olympics, Abdul-Saboor said he stayed on campus and focused on the gym. A friend told him he should consider entering a bodybuilder contest. His first competition was the 2012 Bodybuilding.com FIT USA Event in Boise, Idaho.
“I think they picked 16 or 20 of us from the nation,” Abdul-Saboor told NBC Olympics. “I ended up winning the people’s choice award. So that was everybody over the nation voting for which contestant they liked, their physique best.”
Abdul-Saboor was invited to compete in bigger shows but didn’t have the money. He moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he worked for Performance Training Inc. as a personal trainer and speed-agility quickness coach. In 2014, a Facebook video of Abdul-Saboor got the attention of Dr. Brad DeWeese, a professor at Eastern Tennessee State University and former head of physiology for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“Having coached a large portion of Olympians in the sport, it was obvious that Hakeem had the power and physical build to be successful in bobsled,” DeWeese told NBC Olympics.
DeWeese invited Abdul-Saboor to Johnson City, Tennessee, for a dryland bobsled combine. He performed flawlessly on each event. DeWeese went on to coach Abdul-Saboor to three national team designations and finally to the U.S. Olympic team.
Abdul-Saboor’s bobsledding career launched in 2015 when he competed in the Minor League North American Cup. By January 2016, he had competed in three World Cups.
In December, Abdul-Saboor and two-time Olympian Nick Cunningham placed fifth in the two-man bobsled at the World Cup in Austria — the best finish for any U.S. sled at an international event this season.
On Jan. 15, Abdul-Saboor shared via Instagram that he would continue to represent the United States — but this time at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I am honored to announce that I was named to the 2018 Olympic bobsled team and will be representing Team USA in February,” Abdul-Saboor said. “I’m still at a loss for words right now but am excited to continue to grind it out and work hard to be my best at the Olympic Games.”
Abdul-Saboor, 30, will compete in the two-man and four-man bobsledding events, which begin Feb. 19.
This article was published by NBC12 and other CNS subscribers.
Reston Teen Skates Her Way to Winter Games
By Yasmine Jumaa
Eighteen-year-old Maame Biney of Reston is breaking ice, and records, as the first African-American woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic short-track speedskating team after two 500-meter victories at her December trials.
Born in Ghana, Biney came to the U.S. when she was 5 to visit her father, Kweku, and never left. It didn’t take long before Biney was drawn to an ice rink, after her father pointed out a sign that advertised figure skating classes.
“We were driving down this street right here — Sunset Hills Road,” Kweku Biney told The Washington Post. “I saw the sign in front of the rink. It said, ‘Learn to skate.’ I asked her, ‘Maame, you want to try this?’”
Biney jumped at the opportunity. She was so fast the instructor suggested she try speedskating.
Biney started in Kids on Ice, a beginner speedskating program in Washington. That meant the Bineys had to wake up at 5 a.m. to make it to the Fort Dupont Ice Arena by 6 a.m. The practices were led by three-time Olympian Nathaniel Mills, who said he was in awe of Maame Biney’s dedication.
“She wasn’t deterred by the fact that she was taking up a difficult sport,” Mills told Capital News Service. “She came to the rink every Saturday morning eager to learn.”
Mills, who now runs DC Inner City Excellence, a year-round skating-based youth development program, said Biney’s passion and perseverance distinguish her from other skaters.
“She’s more explosive of a skater than many of her peers in the United States, and her tenacity as a competitor also sets her apart,” Mills said. “Her own drive, her father’s sacrifices and her love of skating and competing are the three biggest factors to any athlete’s success — and Maame’s got all three.”
Mills said Biney’s father played a significant role in his daughter’s success, putting “every penny he made into her career and into her opportunities.”
Biney is the youngest woman on the U.S. short-track team. At this year’s games, she is up against competitors who have the home turf advantage: 21 of South Korea’s 26 winter gold medals have come from short-track speedskating.
Biney will compete in the 500- and 1,500-meter races. She has an upper hand at the shorter distance since setting a personal record at the Olympic trials of 43.161 seconds in the 500-meter race.
This is just the beginning for Biney, Mills said.
“I think the confidence that came with her performance at the trials, coupled with the experience she’s going to get at these games, will lead to her being among the favorites in the next Olympics in Beijing, China,” Mills said. “She’ll be one of the marquee athletes because her personality is real and her talent is next level.”
Biney has garnered fans across the country and even the world. It’s because she’s so relatable, Mills said.
“I know who she is and what she’s doing means a lot to a whole lot of people that identify themselves by their nation’s state of Ghana, or by being a woman, or because of her skin color, or being from Northern Virginia,” Mills said. “Maame’s pretty easy to root for.”
According to her profile on the Team USA website, Biney is wrapping up her senior year of high school through online courses and plans to study chemical engineering in college. At South Lakes High School in Reston, Biney is best known for her happy-go-lucky demeanor.
“She is so funny and takes everything so positively,” Biney’s former classmate Kriti Shukla said. “She is the most open and happy person in the class.”
Hockey Player Has Chance for Own ‘Miracle on Ice’
By Sophia Belletti
When the NHL closed the door on its players competing in the Winter Olympics, it opened a door for Virginia native Garrett Roe to represent the U.S. on the men’s ice hockey team in the sport’s biggest international event.
In April, the NHL announced that it would not participate in the Winter Games in South Korea. “The overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017–18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players,” the league said.
So the U.S. hockey team turned to Americans who weren’t playing for the NHL — like Roe, a 5-foot-9 center for the team EV Zug in the Swiss national hockey league. Roe, who is from the Northern Virginia town of Vienna, is the team’s leading scorer.
In December, Roe woke up in his apartment in Zug to a missed phone call from USA Hockey general manager Jim Johnson. Johnson was prepared to ask Roe to do something many top athletes can only dream of — to represent his country in the Olympics.
Roe and Johnson eventually connected — and that’s how Roe now finds himself in South Korea ready to face off against players from Russia in the U.S. team’s first game on Feb. 17.
Roe was born into a hockey family. His father, Larry, played and coached hockey; his two older brothers played the sport, too.
“When we first started coaching him, you could tell he had that extra little sense for the game,” Larry Roe told The Washington Post. “Some players have a sense for the game. Some players are talented. Some players have both, and that’s Garrett.”
After high school, Roe played for the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League, the country’s top junior ice hockey league. Then he attended and played NCAA hockey for St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. When he graduated in 2011, he was the school’s all-time leader in assists and third all-time in points scored.
After college, Roe played for the Adirondack Phantoms in the American Hockey League, which serves as the primary developmental league for the NHL.
Two years later, Roe signed with EC Salzburg of the Austrian elite league EBEL for the 2013–14 campaign. Since then, he has played for pro teams in Germany, Sweden and now Switzerland.
Looking back, Roe, now 29, wonders if his decision to abandon the American minor leagues and play overseas was rash. It effectively ended any chance he had of making the NHL, his boyhood dream.
“If I could do it all over again, I’d probably make a different decision,” Roe said in an interview with The Washington Times. “I’d try to stay at home and try to better myself and believe in myself.”
In his biography on the national team’s website, Roe said his favorite moment in USA Hockey history is the “TJ Oshie shootout and the Miracle on Ice.” At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, Oshie scored on a penalty shot after overtime as the Americans beat the Russian team, 3–2.
Next week, Team USA will face the Russians again. Roe has high hopes.
“I like the team we have; I think we have a lot of blue-collar-type guys,” he told radio station WTOP. We’re going to be a team that’s extremely hard to play against and hopefully extremely hard to beat. That’s the goal.”