ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Maia and Alex Shibutani are in PyeongChang, South Korea, competing in their second Olympics. The brother-sister team from Ann Arbor is one of three top U.S. teams competing in ice dance at the Olympics.
Before Maia and Alex left, their teammate, Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis, sat down with them at their home in Ann Arbor.
Meryl: "Can you talk a little bit about how that's helped your career, your close relationship as brother and sister?"
Maia: "At this point, we've been skating together 14 years, but beyond that, having that bond of him being my older brother from the start has really helped us through everything."
Alex: "We've made a really strong team in ice dance because, obviously we care about each other a lot because we're family, and we're similar, but our differences allow us to bring different strengths to the team."
Alex went on to say that they both have different strengths and different interests and the diversity of thought and creative ideas is what makes any team great, and what gets their best work on the ice.
This will be the second Winter Games for the Shibutanis.
Maia and Alex Shibutani finished ninth during the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 and are looking to improve upon that during this Olympics. Davis said the Shibutanis have positioned themselves well to make the podium and medal during their performance at the Olympics.
The brother-sister duo are two-time U.S. national champion figure skaters, in 2016 and 2017; world bronze medalists in 2011 and 2017; and world silver medalists in 2016.
Davis said so much of ice dancing is telling a story between a man and a woman, and often the storylines can be romantic. Since Maia and Alex are siblings, they had to find a different identity to succeed. Davis said she started seeing them do that when they skated to "Fix You" by Coldplay during the 2015 season.
Maia: "2015 is really the first season where we felt like we were ourselves on the ice. We were adults. We were making decisions about what we wanted to show with our skating."
Alex: We weren't skating to a program someone told us would be a good idea to do. We made the choice ourselves
Maia Shibutani said that completely changed things for them emotionally. Physically, they reached new levels in their training and they were seeing results. She said that, for the past three years, they've known they've been pushing themselves every day for their goal, which has been the Olympics.
Davis, who has trained alongside the Shibutanis at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton for the better part of 10 years, said she has always seen the determination in Maia and Alex to succeed. She said they are sharing their personal journey to success through their skating programs.
Alex: "It's been this period of time of three years, starting with 2015 following our Olympic experience, where focusing on ourselves and realizing that there was no path for us to follow, particularly because we are a sibling team, because we are very unique and different, that telling our story and being the best team that we can be is what separates us from all of our competitors, American or international."
The Shibutanis said they've stood out over the past three years just by being themselves.
Their programs during those years are now referred to as a trilogy and they culminate with the team's free dance this season to the song "Paradise" by Coldplay.
Alex: "We happen to connect to Coldplay's music because their music is about love and the power of your dreams and not giving up. With us, PyeongChang is our paradise and we're hoping to be living and skating in our paradise at the Olympic Games and that's why the program means so much to us, but I think it also has a broader appeal and understanding nature for people just watching, because everyone has a dream and everyone's lost sight of that dream at a certain point and it's about how we react and how we pick ourselves up and continue to reach and strive for that."
Maia and Alex have long been known as the Shib Sibs and have had success connecting with their fans on social media. They have their own YouTube channel and many followers on their Instagram accounts.
Meryl: "Is there anything now that fans don't know about you that want people to know?"
Alex: "I think the reason we put so much time in connecting with our fans and social media in general is because we grew up with it. We're comfortable. At the same time, as sort of leaders of our sport it's important that we represent our sport in a way that we think is best."
Maia: "I think that we're pretty open and that's what just makes it easiest, is to try and not be something that you're not, but then, as far as people that aren't sure, I guess: We're not the same' that's one thing. And we're not twins; that's another thing."
Maia and Alex think the nickname Shib Sibs and hearing the word "siblings" might make people think they are twins or the same age. There is a 3 1/2 year age difference between the two.
Athletes feel extreme pressure heading into the games, which is why it’s important for Olympians to have an escape from that stress. It was evident at their home that Maia and Alex's dogs help them de-stress. They have had Lily and Po, their Maltese dogs, for seven years.
Maia: "In an Olympic season, there is so much going on, and I know that, more so than ever, we've been putting in the time, on the ice, in the gym and also with additional commitments. There's not a lot of time, but to have these two is amazing."
Alex: "They are very, very sweet and we're so happy that we're able to spend time with them after spending long days at the rink."
Alex said gratitude and reflection are also good ways to de-stress.
Meryl: "Beyond the score itself or the obvious results or accolades that we all hope for at the Olympic Games, what does success in PyeongChang look like to you?"
Maia: "(What) We've been working and training so hard for is that Olympic moment, and so what I want is for us to be standing in the middle of the ice after our performance feeling so happy and proud and satisfied with what we did."
Maia and Alex Shibutani will compete in the short dance on Feb. 18 and the free dance on Feb. 19.
The brother-sister team initially began their career at very early ages as singles skaters. After attending the 2003 World Championships in Washington, D.C., however, they were inspired to officially team up in 2004. Since their debut, the pair has won medals at the U.S. National Championships at every level in addition to winning a medal at every national championship at the senior level since 2011.
The Shib Sibs attend the University of Michigan, but are taking the year off to focus on the Olympics.
During the 2014 Winter Olympics, Meryl Davis and her ice dance partner, Charlie White, became the first American ice dance team to win gold. Davis is working with Local 4 doing reports and analysis during the 2018 Winter Olympics.