Brother-sister ice dance team Maia and Alex Shibutani, the two-time and reigning national champions, lead the short dance at this year’s U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California.
“Our goal is the Olympics, so it was very exciting for us to have a performance like that today,” Maia said on the NBCSN broadcast.
Alex added, “We’re working to be the best team in the world. With the Olympics coming up in February, this was the performance that we wanted to put out today, and I think it sets us up well.”
The “Shib Sibs” most recently captured a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, which is the first head-to-head battle between the top six ice dance teams in the world. The other U.S. ice dance teams in that field, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, were less than a point behind in fourth and fifth place.
It’s Hubbell and Donohue and Chock and Bates currently sitting in second and third headed into Sunday’s free skate.
However, the teams are separated by a slim margin. The Shibutanis scored 82.33 points to take the lead, followed by Hubbell and Donohue’s 79.10 and Chock and Bates’ 77.61 total.
Hubbell and Donohue won four national bronze medals, and would find another bronze hard to swallow.
“This is our year to upset,” Donohue said on the NBCSN broadcast.
The U.S. can send three dance teams to the 2018 Olympics, and the heavy favorites are the Shibutanis, Hubbell and Donohue, and Chock and Bates. The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates both competed in Sochi 2014, finishing ninth and eighth, respectively.
Just because a team wins nationals doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to PyeongChang next month, but in dance especially, it is seen as a reputation boost to enter the Olympics as their country’s national champion.
As reigning Olympic ice dance champion Meryl Davis (with partner Charlie White) said, “In particular in ice dance, you really want to be team number one out of your country. To go into the Olympic Games as the number one team from the United States is really a big statement. [The teams at nationals are] not just looking ahead to the Olympics, they really want to perform their best here so they can go into the Olympics as team number one.”
The championships are not an official Olympic Trials event, but do count towards what U.S. Figure Skating Association calls a “body of work.” The Olympic selection committee will take into account the results of nationals, the fall 2017 Grand Prix Final and the series overall, plus additional competitions from the prior season. Based on all of this, the 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Team will be chosen to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in February. The Olympic ice dance selections will be announced Sunday evening after the free dance.