by Liz Leamy
(19 January 2017) Maia and Alex Shibutani, the 2016 World silver medalists and reigning U.S. Champions, seem geared up and ready to go to defend their U.S. title in Kansas City this week.
This talented and accomplished brother-sister duo, who clinched bronze at the International Skating Union Grand Prix Final this past December, silver at the 2011 Worlds last March, their first U.S. senior title last January and are six-time U.S. senior medalists, said they are looking forward to competing at this main American event.
“The U.S. Championships are always a really special competition and we’re looking forward to it,” said Alex, 25.
This top-ranked international team, who trains with Marina Zoueva in Canton, Michigan and are known for their superb technique, distinctive style and arresting programs, list one of the most impressive records in dance at the U.S. Championships, as they have either medaled or won at every level from the juvenile through the senior rungs.
Through all of this success, Alex and Maia, 22, still faced some difficult challenges along the way, especially at the international competitive level.
Facing some of the toughest dance teams from around the globe, the Shibutanis did miss making the World podium for several years after the 2011 season, but valiantly managed to make their way back to that point when they valiantly scored silver last year at Worlds in Boston.
“The years of challenges and growing probably made us more resilient,” said Alex. “We’re very confident because of the work we’ve put in at home. It’s lead to some really positive results.”
Known to be some of the hardest working skaters in the sport, the Shibutanis are eager to credit their talented team of coaches and choreographers, lead by Zoueva, who lead Meryl Davis and Charlie White to Olympic gold in 2014, for their success.
“We have a great team around us,” said Alex. “It’s always been our goal to continue growing.”
This year, this team has chosen Frank Sinatra’s iconic take of the song ‘That’s Life’ and various hip-hop selections by the rapper, Jay Z, for their short and the engaging orchestral piece, ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ by Arvo Part and a composition arranged by Alex and performed by the San Francisco Symphony for their free dance, both of which are programs the two see as a next step in their growth artistically and technically.
“We learned a lot from last season, we showed more of ourselves on the ice,” said Maia. “With the short and free dance, we wanted to take the next step and continue to progress as a team.”
Madison Chock, 24, and Evan Bates, 27, should also put out some exceptional performances.
This dynamic duo, known for their terrific energy, lines and flow, train with Igor Sphilband in Novi, Michigan and are two-time World medalists (silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016), the 2015 U.S. titlists and three-time U.S. silver medalists.
This past December, they placed sixth at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Marseille.
“Training has been going well and [our] spirits are high,” said Bates in regard to the U.S. Nationals. “We feel like our skating is going to a new place and [is] in a better place than ever.”
This season, Chock and Bates are skating to ‘Bad to the Bone’ by George Thorogood and ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars for their short dance. For the free dance, they are interpreting the classic rock hit, ‘Under Pressure’ by David Bowie and Queen.
“[In] the song, ‘Under Pressure,’ the lyrics are really deep,” said Bates. “I feel like we’re telling a story with this program.”
For the two, it’s all about being the best they can be, especially in regard to consistency.
“We have to just keep pushing ourselves,” said Bates. “Our skating’s improved a lot and we’re in a really good place.”
Another top team to watch is Madison Hubbell, 25, and Zachary Donohue, 26, the three-time U.S. bronze medalists (in 2012, 2015 and 2016.)
This duo, who placed sixth at the 2016 World Championships and fifth at the ISU Grand Prix Final this past December, is said, once again, to be looking exceptional this season.
They are skating to the song, ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone and a hip-hop medley by various artists for their short and a ‘Love’-themed medley for their free dance.
Since last April, the two have been training in Montreal, Quebec with Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Roman Haguenauer.