Q&A with Maia and Alex Shibutani
Maia and Alex Shibutani are a brother-sister ice dance team who have won three Worlds medals and finished ninth at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. They have their own YouTube channel, the "Shib Sibs," and love creating videos for it.
What is your earliest memory of figure skating? What was it about the sport that propelled you to dedicate your life to it?
Maia: One of my earliest skating memories took place when I was 4 years old. I remember being in a group lesson and waiting for the other kids to make it across the ice. I was having so much fun that I told the coach that I didn’t want to wait anymore. I just wanted to keep skating. I also remember going skating with Alex and our dad. Alex was older, and more independent, but I was in the middle of the ice with my dad. At one point, he picked me up and skated across the ice. While I wasn't the one skating, that feeling of gliding faster than I could walk was exhilarating.
Alex: One of my earliest skating memories is watching competitions on television with my family during the weekend. As we had just started skating, it was always inspiring to watch the skaters we looked up to perform and compete. It gave us a glimpse into a life we could have if we worked hard.
What is the first Olympics you remember watching? Did anyone stand out as an Olympic role model?
The first Olympics we remember paying attention to was the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. We were 7 and 10 years old, and remember sitting on the floor in our living room, listening to the Olympic fanfare, watching skating, and wanting to be like Michelle Kwan. We definitely dreamed of competing at the Olympics. Looking back, having an Olympics in the U.S. when we were at that age made an impression and inspired me. That is the impact of the Olympic Games, and that is one of the reasons why the LA2024 bid is so exciting. It can really inspire and reach a whole new generation of American athletes.
Many people have been influential in helping us become the athletes and people we are today. Someone that we idolized when we first started skating was Michelle Kwan. Even before we knew her, she set an example for how a champion should act on and off the ice. As we have risen to the elite level of our sport, we have come to know her, and she has been supportive and generous in sharing her perspective and experiences with us. Now, it is very important to us to serve as good role models and ambassadors for our sport and the entire Olympic community.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Love what you do.”
What other sports do you follow?
Alex: I was born in Boston, so I support all of the professional sports teams there. I'm a big Bruins and Patriots fan and I really like watching their games. Since the 2014 Olympics, I've become friends with Zdeno Chara. He's a great athlete and a classy guy.
Maia: Alex is a big Boston sports fan, so I'm happy when they're doing well and he's in a good mood. I enjoy supporting teams and athletes that we've met since there is an added personal dynamic.
Are there any Summer Olympic sports you think you’d like to try?
Maia: Swimming, gymnastics or tennis
Did anyone ever tell you that you wouldn’t succeed? How did you overcome that?
Ice dance is a sport that was typically thought of as having a romantic element to it. Some people questioned whether or not we could be successful in the sport as siblings. Throughout our career, we have worked to expand the definition of love and have shown what siblings can accomplish in the sport. We have learned to follow our instincts and our hearts, and do what makes us happy.
We are two-time U.S. champions and are the only sibling team in the world at the senior level. We are also the only team in the U.S. who has medaled at the national championships every year that we have competed.
What’s your pre-competition routine?
On a typical competition day, Maia is the first to wake up since she needs to do her hair and makeup. At competitions, we don’t room together, but normally have other roommates or our own rooms. Maia will focus on getting ready for the day and check to see if Alex is up when he is supposed to be. We meet at a pre-agreed upon time to catch the shuttle to the arena. During the ride, we both listen to our own music, podcasts, or watch videos. If there is something that we think is particularly funny or inspiring, we will share it with each other.
We warm up together before our pre-competition practice. Our dynamic with our coaches and each other is calm. While we are very focused, we keep our energy light. It is easy to feel good, prepared, and confident when you know you've put in the work.
Depending on how long we have before we compete, we will either stay at the arena or go back to the hotel. If he has enough time, Alex likes to nap. Maia prefers not to.
When it’s time to go back to the arena, we meet again and go together. After 13 years of skating together, we’ve learned that the best way we help each other is by focusing on ourselves.
How do you unwind after a competition?
Everyone in our family loves to eat. After a competition, we enjoy getting together and having a good meal – whether it is something that we have cooked together or going out to one of our favorite restaurants.
Since we are a family that loves to eat, holiday meals are always a special occasion. There are some family favorites that we have for Christmas, but traditionally we like to have Japanese meals for New Year’s. We always have sashimi and soba for New Year’s Eve, and then we have a traditional soup with rice cakes, chicken, fish cakes, and vegetables for New Year’s Day.
What are your biggest fears?
Maia: My email inbox… We have two Maltese dogs named Lily and Po. No matter what kind of day we have had, they are always so happy to see us. It’s definitely comforting to come home to them and experience their pure joy and love. Alex always wanted a dog, but when I was a toddler, a massive one barked at me while I was sitting in my stroller. Until we got our own dogs, I was admittedly afraid of them – no matter their size. Whenever I saw dogs on the street, I would cross to the other side to avoid them. Now that we have Lily and Po, I like all dogs.
Alex: The ocean (seriously!)
What are some of your hobbies away from the ice?
Maia: I enjoy figuring out how to tell stories and share experiences. It makes me happy to make other people happy. Whether it's cooking a meal for someone or figuring out how to bring a group of people together, that is fulfilling to me.
Alex: I really enjoy photography and making videos. Being able to create something (a story or just document memories) even when I'm off the ice is something that I really value. I also love watching sports and films.