Olympic skating siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani were practically born on the ice

Published February 6, 2018

COLLAGE BY MAXWELL N. BURNSTEIN.

In the lead up to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang on February 8, 2018, we will be introducing 10 young athletes who will be stealing America’s hearts and standing on the podium.

Olympic ice skating siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani are attention magnets, seemingly born onto the ice. Beyond the multimillion hits on their personal YouTube channel and sponsorship from Team USA’s designers Ralph Lauren, the skate siblings are amassing I, Tonya levels of awareness on the rink. It’s hard to look away from their precisely synced routines—after all, the winning pair took gold at U.S. Championships in 2017 and Silver at the Four Continents Figuring Skating Championship.

An original mash-up between Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z entitled “That’s Life” set the tone for the Shibutani’s now ubiquitous 2017 short dance. Initially mainlined through NBC’s Facebook page, the video helped mark the Michigan-based athletes as Team USA’s go-to skaters.

The Shibutani siblings have already placed in this year’s Olympic stadium, developing upon their familial heritage with South Korea. Appointed as local ambassadors for Team USA in Seoul, Alex and Maia have now gained local attention in preparing to best their ninth place at Sochi with a medal at PyeongChang.

Our style of skating…

ALEX: Is largely based off of who we are as people and the unique relationship we have being siblings. The fact that we’ve grown up skating together for 14 years and that friendship we have as siblings, is something people can feel when we perform.

Over the course of our careers…

ALEX: We’ve taken more ownership over our material. Deciding who we want to be when we skate, what we say with our performances, and the way we mix our music are all part of the story we want to tell.

The part we enjoy the most has been…

ALEX: The creative side. We really enjoy having the chance to perform at competitions. It’s a huge opportunity that people get to watch us do what we love.

Bringing popular culture into the sport…

MAIA: Is a very exciting challenge for us. In figuring skating there is a lot of tradition, but for us we are trying to make the sport more accessible for people all around the world.

The biggest change in the sport…

ALEX: Happened a year ago when there was a guide imposed on us by our sport that we needed to select music around a certain theme. The blues hip-hop program [to “That’s Life”] was the first, of all things.

This was our breakout moment because…

ALEX: We saw it as an opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done before so we used Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” and mixed in Jay-Z, both icons of their generation. That collaboration was beyond what was needed for our sport, but it paid off after the video footage of the program went viral and encouraged people to watch more of our performances.

For our Olympic Free-dance…

MAIA: We will be skating to an arrangement by Coldplay called “Paradise.” It’s a piece that means so much to us and we’re so excited we can skate to this at the Olympics.

The process behind our programs…

ALEX: Takes so much time working. Maia and I spend a lot of time producing and coming up with the storyline that we feel will connect with as many people as possible.

Figure skating attracts a lot of attention…

ALEX: Because people of varying backgrounds and interests can find something they love within the sport. It can be the athleticism, the drama, packaging or music in the performance that separates it from the other Olympic sports.

Our first Olympic experience…

ALEX: Was at Sochi [in 2014] and we were so excited to be part of a dream we had for such a long time. Every moment we have been on the ice was leading up that moment.

Since the last games…

ALEX: We have had such tremendous support both nationally and internationally. We’re heading into this game with confidence. We’ve grown so much and recognize that we are approaching the level of skating we only dreamed we would be capable of.

Going into PyeongChang…

MAIA: We are stronger then we have ever been as a team. We can’t help but be excited because we have all those hours of preparation behind us and have come into our own.

The Olympic goal is…

ALEX: To have the strongest performances of our lives.

 

LEARN MORE AT TEAMUSA.ORG. THE WINTER OLYMPICS BEGIN LIVE ON FEBRUARY 8, 2018. THE PARALYMPICS START ON MARCH 9, 2018.