Alex and Maia Shibutani pose in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Even though Maia and Alex Shibutani only learned on Thursday that Friday is Brothers and Sisters Day, they are good natured enough to celebrate it on short notice.
“I’ve heard of National Siblings Day, and I know there are a lot of different things every day but we haven’t heard of [Brothers and Sisters Day] before,” Maia, 19, said. “But it’s something we are up for celebrating.”
Known to their fans simply as the “Shib Sibs,” the Olympic ice dancers share an incredible dynamic in and outside the rink. In February, the siblings skated to a ninth-place finish at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and hope to be representing Team USA again in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018.
The Shib Sibs were one of seven sets of American siblings to compete in Sochi and one of five sister-brother pairings. The others who might be celebrating Brothers and Sisters Day are Sadie and Erik Bjornsen (cross-country skiing), Erika and Craig Brown (curling), Arielle and Taylor Gold (snowboarding) and Amanda and Phil Kessel (ice hockey).
|A young Maia and Alex Shibutani
Leading up to the Winter Games, NBC asked them to unearth a trove of family photos and videos before the Olympic Games and the Shibutanis reveled in the opportunity to reminisce. They were especially taken by a video of them twirling around long before they started dancing together on the ice — which Maia called “bizarre foreshadowing.”
“We were always close even before we skated together,” Maia said. “Having an older brother is not always easy but most of the time it’s a really great thing. I know I’m going to have a really great friend for my entire life.”
“That’s what she thinks,” Alex chided before adding, “I was really excited I was going to have a little sister. Our relationship as we’ve grown up can only be referred to as kind of adorable. We always enjoy spending time together.”
They also are known for spending time creating various YouTube videos together. Alex spends hours editing them in his free time.
That’s not to say they don’t have their disagreements, especially creative ones. But they both agreed that they learned to overcome them civilly and that’s what ultimately makes their partnership stronger.
“If we ever have a disagreement we know we have the same goals so it’s easy for us to work through a disagreement maybe faster than some other people in a regular working relationship,” Maia said. “It’s not always easy but for us there’s that level of comfort.”
“That level of trust,” Alex added, “we feel, is our strongest asset.”
They do have their boundaries as well.
“We’re not attached at the hip; we have our own friends,” Alex said. “Time away from each other is helpful too. I have my own place where I live. We get a little separation that way.”
Ultimately, though, they do spend a good chunk of time together given their rigorous training schedule. And their success on the ice has given them opportunities to attend various events together, too.
Earlier this week, the two were in New York City, where they attended a “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” taping and the Right To Play’s Big Red Ball. Maia and Alex served as Right To Play Ambassadors, during which they endorsed the organization’s mission to use sport and play to empower disadvantaged youngsters.
“We had a blast together,” Alex said. “New York obviously offers something for everyone. For us it was fun to hang out just the two of us and not have to worry about skating.”
They said the Right To Play event also offered an opportunity to catch up with many of the athletes they befriended in Sochi across all sports.
“That’s something I’m really proud of as far as we took the Olympics as an opportunity to make the most of every experience,” Maia said. “We did meet so many amazing people. Keeping in touch can be a challenge and something we try to do. It’s been successful so far.”
After the Winter Games, they didn’t have much time before they traveled to Japan in March for the world championships, which they finished in sixth place. Then the Japanese-American siblings embarked on the Stars on Ice Japan tour before returning stateside after a month on the road.
All that time in Japan made it difficult to keep up with their friends, competitors and University of Michigan classmates, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Davis and White, the first Americans to win the Olympic gold medal in ice dancing, have been quite busy themselves with “Dancing with the Stars,” and the Stars on Ice tour in the United States.
“We’ve been trying to follow as best as we can,” Alex said of the Olympic gold medalists. “They are doing incredibly well on the show. It’s exciting for Team USA.”
Davis and White, who have been competing together for 17 years, are competing against each other on “Dancing with the Stars.” Alex said he’d be all for competing against his sister on the popular TV show.
“I don’t know about Maia,” he said.
“It seems like a lot of fun,” she added. “Maybe that would be a way to work out some sibling rivalries.”
Justin A. Rice is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers sports and local news. He has been a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org since 2010 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.