by Liz Leamy
(4 January 2018) Maia & Alex Shibutani, the 2016 and 2017 U.S. champions and three-time World medalists, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, the 2015 U.S. titlists and two-time World medalists and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, the four-time U.S. bronze medalists, collectively comprise some of the three strongest American dance entries to ever be facing off against one another at a U.S. Championships, especially during an Olympic season, which ought to make this a more exciting showdown than ever.
Leading this accomplished brigade are Maia and Alex Shibutani, the brother-sister duo who train in Canton, Michigan under the tutelage of the esteemed Olympic coach Marina Zoueva.
Based upon the stats, these two siblings are the favorites going into this event, as they clinched bronze in the International Skating Union Grand Prix Finals in Nagano, Japan last December, rendering themselves the highest-finishing U.S. team in that event and also the third-ranked dance duo in the world.
This reputable team, who clinched bronze at the 2017 World Championships and gold at the 2017 Bridgestone Skate America competition in Lake Placid last November, appear to be more resolute and confident about who they are on the ice than ever before, a characteristic that seems to permeate their entire persona, especially over the past few seasons.
Aside from being superior technicians, this Shibutanis’ method of artistry has evolved into a unique brand unto itself, as they have portrayed, in their programs, vital human themes that essentially address the journey of life, complete with all of its emotions and experiences, an element that has brought a freshness and innovation to this all-important discipline.
Going into this competition, Alex, 26, and Maia, 23, said they feel as ready as ever.
“We’re feeling really strong and good about all the progress we’ve made going into Nationals,” said Alex. “We want to be at our very best next week.”
According to Maia and Alex, it’s all about working as hard as they can to achieve an optimal artistic and athletic level with their skating.
“Every event and competition is an opportunity to grow and is a step to where we want to go,” said Alex. “We’ve really put in the time between the Grand Prix Final and Nationals.”
Madison Chock & Evan Bates, the electric dance duo that trains in Novi, Michigan with the famed coach, Igor Shpilband, are another first-rate entry to watch in this event.
This team, who placed fifth at the 2017/2018 ISU Grand Prix Finals and seventh at the 2017 World Championships, are known for putting out top performances, especially in an intensive competitive arena, such as Nationals, which will make them a force to be reckoned with.
Looking to reclaim the U.S. title, Chock and Bates said they feel confident going into this week’s dance competition, which kicks off Friday.
“We’re doing great and we’re training really well,” said Bates, 28, in a pre-Nationals teleconference call. “Our goal is to win the National Championships and make our second Olympic Games together.” Chock and Bates represented the U.S. at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where they finished eighth.
According to Chock and Bates, it’s all about staying focused on being their best and pushing themselves so they reach their full potential.
“We really have stepped up this year,” said Chock, 25. “This season we really came into our own.”
Perhaps more than anything, this team exhibits a strong closeness
and bond that seems to only grow and also serve them very well,
particularly in regard to their skating.
Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donahue, who placed ninth at the 2017 Worlds and were fourth at the 2017/2018 ISU Championship Grand Prix Finals, are another premiere team to watch in this event.
This duo trains in Montreal with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrick Lauzon, coaches of the current top-two dance teams in the World, and over the past few years, have generated a great deal of buzz among members of the national and global skating community due to their exceptional technical and artistic standard.
Based upon their recent skating momentum and competitive history together, Hubbell, 26, and Donohue, 26, are expected to rack up some big points with their short and free dance programs this week, which ought to amp up the whole level of excitement of this much-anticipated showdown.