Team USA Makes Ice Dance History At Skate America

By Brandon Penny | Oct. 26, 2014, 2:19 a.m. (ET)
(L-R) Ice dance medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (silver), Madison Chock and Evan Bates (gold), Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (bronze) pose at 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America at the Sears Centre Arena on Oct. 25, 2014 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Team USA made history Saturday night with a gold and a silver in the 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America ice dance competition. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani became the first American ice dance teams to go 1-2 in the history of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series.

“Tonight was electric,” Bates said after winning his first grand prix gold medal, a feat he and Chock both described as “amazing” in unison.

“It felt like Christmas came early,” he said. “I thought the crowd was awesome. We hadn’t done a Skate America together before and some of our most memorable performances together have been at the U.S. Championships and this event felt like a U.S. Championships.”

Chock and Bates won with 171.03 points, while the Shibutanis earned 160.33. Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin were third (143.87), while Americans Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus finished fifth (135.61).

The Americans’ performances are strengthening the already impressive mark the United States has been leaving on the ice dance world over the past decade.

There was a time when the United States went 30 years without winning an Olympic medal — and 20 years without a world championship medal — in ice dance. Those days are long gone. Team USA returned to the world stage in 2005 with Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto’s first world championship medal and since then, the medals haven’t stopped.

Since 2005, Team USA has earned three Olympic medals, eight Grand Prix Final medals, nine world championship medals and 38 grand prix medals.

Team USA’s accomplishment Saturday night was especially impressive considering the reigning Olympic ice dance champions and arguably the greatest U.S. ice dancers of all time, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, are taking the season off from competition. Davis and White account for 25 of the 58 previously mentioned international medals. Of note, Davis and White became the first Americans to win world championship gold in 2011 and, earlier this year, became the first to win Olympic gold.

Davis and White created what both Bates and Alex Shibutani called a blueprint for other American ice dance teams to follow.

“Both the Shibutanis and ourselves have had the privilege of training with them, traveling with them, competing against them, learning from them, and it’s really had an influence on both teams,” Bates said.

“Going forward for us, I hope we can follow in their footsteps,” he said. “We hope to use those examples as the template for ourselves and as a blueprint of how much work we need to put in and how we need to approach what we do.”

Alex Shibutani noted that he and younger sister Maia are hoping to use the blueprint Davis and White created to forge their own path. The Shibutanis have been skating together for 11 years — only six less than Davis and White — and are the longest-lasting U.S. team that is competing this season. Coached by Marina Zoueva, who coached Davis and White and Belbin and Agosto, and currently mentored by White himself, the Shibutanis are in good hands.

The Shib Sibs first broke into the senior ranks in 2010-11 when they won bronze medals at their first two grand prix assignments, followed by silver at Four Continents Championships and bronze at world championships.

They have struggled to maintain that level of success at worlds, finishing eighth, eighth and sixth in the following seasons, and most recently were ninth at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

“I think a lot can happen between now and the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018 and it’s sort of a marathon situation,” Alex Shibutani said. “We’ve been aware of that throughout our career. It hasn’t always been easy but we’ve definitely turned a page this offseason, as far as our confidence in our skating and definitely the direction that we’re headed.”

“Having a full Olympic cycle behind you is such an advantage and I think we know exactly how we need to pace ourselves, what we need to do, and we have a plan, so it feels good,” said Maia Shibutani.

Their ultimate plan is to medal in PyeongChang in less than four years and become “the best team in the world.”

It is a plan shared by Chock and Bates, who are now in their fourth season together.

Bates competed at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and finished 11th with then-partner Emily Samuelson. The following season, he and Chock joined forces and have been steadily building toward their first grand prix win, which was preceded by an eighth-place finish in Sochi.

“We work hard,” Bates said. “We really take it seriously. It’s a full-time job for us, so the hard work has paid off.”

Chock and Bates are the two-time reigning U.S. silver medalists and are hoping to take gold this year with Davis and White out of the picture. Chock attributes their progress to their strong team chemistry.

“We’re good friends on and off the ice and that makes a big difference when you’re with someone for so long every day, working hard,” Chock said. “There’ll be tough days and there’ll be good days, but as long as you have the same goals and support each other, that’s really what gets us through it.”