Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani celebrate after competing in the free dance at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 23, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The wait is over for Maia and Alex Shibutani.
The five-time medalists broke through for the one they really wanted — gold — with a passionate free dance Saturday at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota. With a final score of 190.14, the siblings affectionately known as the “Shib Sibs” overcame defending champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who finished second with 186.93. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue finished third for the second straight year with a score of 178.81.
“I think Maia and I have been skating for 12 years, it’s been a long time,” Alex Shibutani said. “When we first started, the dream was always to go to the Olympics. We accomplished that in 2014, and I think that experience really propelled us to where we’re standing today.”
National champions at the intermediate (2006), novice (2007) and junior (2010) levels, the Shibutanis had won five straight U.S. medals after joining the senior ranks in 2011, including silver in 2011, ’12 and ’15. They also won a world bronze medal in 2011 and finished ninth at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Yet they were still seeking that breakthrough at the U.S. championships.
“In the periphery, you hear people that doubt your abilities and what our potential was as brother and sister,” said Alex Shibutani, 24, who is three years older than Maia. “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.”
That point was Saturday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center.
Performing to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” the Shibutanis were on from the start to finish in their free skate, drawing the crowd into the performance as they went. When the score was announced, Alex Shibutani raised his arms and pumped his fists. Even though Hubbell and Donohue had yet to skate, the moment had a feeling of inevitability: This night belonged to the Shib Sibs.
“We’ve had visions of skating the way we did today,” Alex Shibutani said.
The final result was less memorable for Chock and Bates, whose finish marked the first time since 1995 that a U.S. champion ice dance team failed to defend its title. However, the 2014 Olympians and 2015 world runners up had no regrets.
“This is the best performance we’ve put out all season,” Chock said. “We had a little mishap on the spin I guess, we got a little lower (level) than we expected. Other than that, it felt great to skate and we were just enjoying every second of it.”
In addition to the combination spin, Chock and Bates also lost points on a step sequence. These errors proved to be the difference as their otherwise strong performance to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Concerto No. 2” fell just short.
“It felt great out there today,” Chock said. “It really did.”
Hubbell and Donohue, skating last, performed to “Adagio for Tron” by Daft Punk. Their bronze medal matched their best result at nationals, which they achieved in 2012 and 2015.
“We feel the most confident we’ve ever felt just in our own skating and how we can control our performance every time, our consistency,” Hubbell said. “That’s a great feeling. I think that we’re in the right place to reach all of our dreams.”
The three competitive teams are all expected to represent the United States at the World Figure Skating Championships this spring in Boston.
For Alex Shibutani, who was born in Boston, it’d be an ideal setting for a second major championship.
“Every time we have the opportunity to skate in front of fans in the U.S. is great,” said Alex Shibutani, who has lived with his sister in Michigan since 2007, “but Boston will be doubly special.”