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Shibutanis Poised to Capture Gold in Chicago

 by Liz Leamy


(24 October 2014)   Maia and Alex Shibutani, the U.S. bronze medalists and 2011 World third-place finishers, seem poised to kick off the international season in winning fashion at Skate America this weekend, to be held September 24 to 26 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, a suburb 30 miles northwest of Chicago.

The brother and sister duo, who train in Canton, Michigan with Marina Zoueva, coach of 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, will be a force to be reckoned with in the dance event as they have been skating with a whole new energy and approach this season.

Earlier this month, they generated a great deal buzz for their Strauss waltz free dance at the Ondrej Nepala Trophy, an International Skating Union senior ‘B’ event held in Slovakia, where they took first and earned their highest free dance score ever for a 127.22 total.

Although the two were said to have considered stepping down from competing following Sochi last season, they instead announced they were going to pursue another four-year Olympic cycle following Worlds in Japan.

No doubt, this seems to have been a good decision, as the two have been skating with more visible fire, determination and commitment than ever in regard to both their technical and artistic elements.

In Slovakia, they were powerful, artful and streamlined and echoed much of the same sophistication that defined the skating of their famous former training colleagues, Davis and White. (Alex said White often visits Canto to help advise them on their skating.)

“Every season we really try to push our boundaries,” said Maia. “It’s the start of the next Olympic cycle and we’re turning a new page.”

Evidently, they seem to be doing just that.

Throughout their career, the two, who grew up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut and started skating nearby at Stamford Twin Rinks, have experienced a remarkable level of success.

Starting in 2005 as juveniles, they placed second at junior nationals.

From there, they went on to score U.S. titles all the way from the intermediate through the junior ranks, something that is not exactly an easy feat.

At the senior level, however, the two, being siblings, faced some challenges as they were somewhat limited in terms of their on-ice narrative as opposed to other teams with the freedom to interpret more romantic storylines.

Rather than be deterred, however, they managed to navigate through this situation effectively, using such music selections as the Memoirs of a Geisha soundtrack, George Gershwin tunes and a medley of Michael Jackson songs to earn numerous medals over the years.

This season, the two seem to have hit a bullseye with their Strauss program, the golden key that could very well indeed help them capture their first U.S. senior title.

In their quest, the two siblings seem to possess a strong mindset, which is probably the most important thing necessary to reach the pinnacle of a sport such as figure skating.

“Our big goal is to become the best team in the world. It’s very early in the season, but we feel we are off to a great start,” said Alex.

Standout members of the American skating community agree, including Slavka Kohout-Button, one of their former coaches who had worked with Janet Lynn, the five-time U.S. champion in the early 1970s.

“Now is their time,” said Kohout-Button, a Professional Skaters Association Hall of Fame member based at rinks in Greenwich, Connecticut and the New York-metropolitan area.

“From here on in, they’re going reach a whole new level with their skating and it’ll be something to watch.”