ST. PAUL, Minn. – It was hard to know which was the more stunning part of Saturday afternoon’s ice dance final at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The electric brilliance with which Maia and Alex Shibutani, the @ShibSibs, performed their free skate to Coldplay’s “Fix You?”
Or the judges doing the right thing, rare in ice dance, with scores that made the Shibutanis champions ahead of designated darlings Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the defending champions and reigning world silver medalists?
It made for a scintillating end to the competition in a discipline where, for all the attempts to produce more objectivity, the results usually still seem to have been mailed in weeks ahead.
“Ice dance has sort of a reputation of having to wait your turn,” Alex said. “We’ve taken our skating to another level this season, and I think that is reflected in our performances and our scores.”
After 12 years skating together, much spent in the shadow of now retired 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the Shibutanis finally won a U.S. title after three seconds and two thirds.
They won with a four-minute skate that required a cool precision to accompany the monochromatic musical tone in nearly two-thirds of the program and a dizzying energy to match the music as it built toward the finish.
In a four-part series of twirls, or twizzles, executed fast and flawlessly, the Shibutanis captured the essence of how they wanted to look in the program choreographed by five-time U.S. ice dance champion Peter Tchernyshev – who also choreographed Russian singles skater Adelina Sotnikova’s winning programs at the 2014 Olympics.
“We had visions of skating the way we did today,” Alex said.
After trailing Chock and Bates by .47 after the short dance, the Shibutanis took the free skate decisively and wound up winning by 3.21. Their score, 190.14, was nearly 10 points better than their previous best in domestic competition.
“There is so much more we can accomplish,” said Alex, 24. “Right now, we’re just brushing the surface.”
A surprising bronze medal at their senior world debut in 2011 - after a fourth in juniors the year before - left the impression the Shibutanis already had broken through into the big time. But they soon were stymied, at least in the minds of the judges, who dropped them to eighth a year later and then ninth at the 2014 Olympics.
“In the periphery, you hear people that doubt your abilities and what our potential was as brotherand sister,” Alex said. “What we have is very special. We have never really doubted what our potential was and I think that is what has gotten us to this point.”
“Your perspective changes,” said Maia, 21. “We have been on quite the journey, but this was really just the start for us. Our next goal is the next Olympics and about being the best version of ourselves then. This was a great step along the way.”
It was the one that put them on the top step of their country’s podium.