In 2011, brother-sister team Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani made their senior debut at the World Championships. This being their first season as senior ice dancers they skated well and surprisingly walked away with the bronze medal. They have competed at the World Championships every year since then, but have been unable to make it back onto the podium. This year they are set to compete at their fifth World Championships with the hope of making it back on top.
“That was such a unique first World Championships,” Maia said regarding the 2011 World Championships on a media call on March 24. “At the time I was sixteen and I can truly say that we’re completely a different team since then. We’ve gone through so many different experiences, but we wouldn’t be where we are today if it hadn’t been for what we’ve gone through the past few seasons. I think that everything happens for a reason and we’re feeling really confident about our timing now.” Since winning the bronze in 2011, Maia and Alex have struggled not only to get onto the podium during competitions, but to simply not be overshadowed by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White along with Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. It has been a tough road for Maia and Alex, but this season has changed everything.
The Shibutanis came out with a wonderful short dance and a captivating free dance that has won over audiences all over the world. After being in second, third and fourth place year after year, this season they have emerged into the limelight. They won their first national title in January and the Four Continents Championships, which is their first ISU (International Skating Union) title just a few weeks ago. “I think that we took a lot of confidence from Nationals into Four Continents and Four Continents—that first ISU title was a huge accomplishment for us,” Alex said. “We knew that we had several weeks to go home and to really improve and progress and we’ve done that. We’re skating at a very high level right now and I think Maia and I and our coaches are really excited about the potential of the performances we can put out next week.”
Alex and Maia would not admit to any nerves, but only to the excitement that they feel about competing in Boston for the World Figure Skating Championships this year. When asked if they feel any additional pressure going in as the favorites, Alex responded: “Obviously the energy in the arena is going to be very exciting, we’re going to take that energy and run with it. I don’t think that our approach is going to be different. Our goal has always been and continues to be, to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Out of the four disciplines in the sport, for the United States it is ice dance that holds the most possibility for a gold medal at the World Championships this year. Madison Chock and Evan Bates won silver at last year’s World Championships, but many believe it will be the Shibutanis at the top of the podium due to the momentum that has been rising all season long. “Part of why we feel so confident heading into next week, is that we really just know that every day this season we’ve been working so hard,” Maia explained. “We feel that we’ve been building our own momentum so we’re really ready to just enjoy the experience next week.”
Mai and Alex are skating to “Fix You” by Coldplay in their free dance, which has gotten quite a bit of attention. Not only have skating fans been captured by their interpretation of the song, Coldplay’s tour manager contacted the Shibutanis after watching their free dance at Nationals. The siblings were invited to meet Chris Martin and the band during one of their tour stops in Foxborough, Massachusetts in July. “It’s exciting that our program and our skating this year has kind of reached beyond the typical bounds that skating reaches,” Alex said. “As we look to Worlds next week with a home World Championships it’s a huge opportunity for the sport to see some growth and for people to really appreciate the talent and hard work that goes into the performances.”
The last sibling ice dance team to win gold at a World Championships was Isabelle Duchesnay and Paul Duchesnay back in 1991. Though Maia and Alex are trying to stay focused on their programs and not on the outcome, it is obvious that they have considered what it would be like to finally win gold. “To win a world title would be an incredible honor, it’s an amazing feat and accomplishment,” Alex said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves by any means, our goal is to do our job next week and really enjoy and bask in the moment.”