Most of us can’t imagine the intensity it takes to compete in the Olympic Games: the years of aggressive training, the sacrifice and the immense pressure to put on near-perfect performances.
After that kind of relentless dedication, a long break seems well-deserved, but Ann Arbor, Michigan-based sibling ice dancing team Maia and Alex Shibutani are continuing the momentum of their Olympic wins on a two-month tour with Stars on Ice.
“We work really hard, and the Olympics are a great opportunity, as is Stars on Ice, to show our sport and what we’re able to do,” Alex says.
Maia, 24, and Alex, 27, have been skating for 20 years and as partners for 14 years. They found having a teammate to be more fun and consider their shared history and naturally close relationship an advantage over their competition.
“When there are those natural riffs, we can depend on the fact that we really do care about each other, and we have a strong relationship and bond,” Maia explains.
The siblings spend a lot of time together, even residing in the same apartment building. Alex shares that being around each other so much adds to their cohesiveness on the ice and their ability to improve and build momentum.
“Going into the Olympics, we were working around the clock, but it did help that we were OK spending that much time together,” he adds.
The 2018 Olympic Winter Games was the second Olympics for the ice dancing duo. After placing ninth in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the pair was elated to bring home two bronze medals this year, one in ice dance and one in the figure skating team event.
“Our Olympic experience was really incredible,” Maia shares. “The amount of pressure that you experience at the Olympics is kind of like no other competition, but I’m so proud of the way we performed.”
According to Alex, life since the games has been exciting and crazy. “It’s been awesome to get recognized and for people to just be very, very nice and say how proud they were and that they enjoyed what we were doing,” he says.
And the craziness continues as the pair is in the middle of the 22-city Stars on Ice tour, which visits Glendale Friday, May 11, at Gila River Arena.
The show, founded and produced by Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton, is a breathtaking musical and visual experience showcasing extraordinary feats of strength and grace from the world’s most elite figure skaters.
Fans can relive the Olympic excitement as the ice dance bronze medalists glide, twirl and leap across the ice alongside a talented cast of championship skaters, including fellow Olympic bronze medal team members Nathan Chen, Adam Rippon, Bradie Tennell and Mirai Nagasu.
“We maybe compete six or seven times a year, so knowing that we’re going to be performing in front of 22 different audiences over the next two months, that’s so exciting,” Maia says.
“It’s awesome to be able to not only skate for but meet fans,” Alex says.
The duo, known for their inventive song choices, will be performing adaptations of their popular Olympic performances to Coldplay and a Sinatra/Jay-Z remix as well as new routines.
“The choices that we make, whether it’s music, costuming, or choreography, it really is very tailored toward us,” Alex explains.
When asked how performing for fun feels different than competing, Alex corrects, “Competing is performing for fun. The approach doesn’t really change. You have varying levels of nerves, but we know that we also skate our best when we’re loose, relaxed and able to skate freely.”
If the siblings get any downtime on their nationwide tour, Maia describes her ideal day off as, “Probably starting by not waking up too early. Just catching up on some sleep. Then just exploring where we’re at and definitely having some good food.”
As for any plans for post-tour downtime, Alex laughs. “We don’t really know what that means. We haven’t taken a vacation for over, I want to say, seven years. We’re always working in some capacity.”
The siblings shy away from sounding overconfident when asked if they’ll make another Olympic run but agree that it’s a possibility
“No one really knows what they’re going to be doing in four years, but we’re fortunate to be at an age and a point in our career where we’re not being kicked out the door because of health or a decline in our abilities,” Alex says. “It’s such a huge honor to be able to represent the United States and to compete at the Olympics. It’s brought so much to our lives. So, yes is the simple answer.”
Stars on Ice, Gila River Arena, 9400 W. Maryland Avenue, Glendale, 623.772.3800, starsonice.com, 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 11, $25-$140.