ShibSibs prove blood thicker than naysayers

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea - It began so simply in 2004: Alex Shibutani was tired of having his 12-year-old butt kicked by rivals in singles skating. His 9-year-old sister, Maia, was having more success, so Alex decided he would be better off trying to skate with her in ice dance.

"When we came up as a sibling team, it was just so natural, and we thought, 'OK, this is going to be a great journey we can be on together,'" Maia said.

She also quickly discovered it was more fun to be on the ice with Alex than to be out there by herself. And they were good together, good enough to start winning medals in national competitions the next year and keep winning medals as they moved up through skill levels, from juvenile to intermediate to novice to junior.

And then it got complicated.

"As you start to move forward and people start to take your skating more seriously, you stand out because you're different -- two Asian kids that are also brother and sister," Alex said. "People start to take notice of your ability and potential and they start asking, 'When the cuteness fades, what is the ceiling of their career?'"

The consensus was a pretty low ceiling. Theirs was a discipline in which love stories play a part in such a huge percentage of programs, in which no Asians or Asian-Americans -- and only one brother-sister team, Isabelle Duchesnay and Paul Duchesnay of France -- had ever won an Olympic medal until the Shibutanis took the bronze Tuesday.

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