Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani skate in the short dance at the 2016 ISU World Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on March 30, 2016 in Boston.
BOSTON – Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani have never been more prepared for a competition, and that showed Wednesday afternoon at the TD Garden in Boston, where the Shibutanis finished their short dance with a season-best 74.70.
The Shibutanis are currently second in the ice dance competition at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, sitting a mere 1.59 points behind leaders GabriellaPapadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and in reach of their first world title. Team USA’s Madison Chock and Evan Bates are third with 72.46.
“It was our strongest performance of the year,” Alex said. “The score was also nice. We were just excited to carry the momentum all the way through with this program from nationals all the way up to the world championships.”
Skating to selections from “Coppelia,” the Shibutanis saw one of their strongest seasons culminate in the highest short dance score of their careers. The comedic program has Maia playing a doll that comes to life and, though it’s a departure from anything they’ve done in the past, the playful program suits their sibling relationship.
“I think it brings out our natural sibling chemistry,” Alex said. “The fun we have off the ice is something that’s been brought in the program and I’m sure it’s something we’ll continue to explore.”
Ballet instructor Cheryl Yeager, who has performed the lead role of Coppelia with the American Ballet Theatre, worked with the team throughout the season to help bring the story to life.
The 2014 Olympians are looking to maintain their podium position in Thursday’s free dance and earn their first world medal in five years. In their first year as seniors, they won bronze in 2011, but have struggled to medal again, finishing between fifth and eighth four years straight.
“Our situation was very unique,” Alex said. “Maia was 16, I was 19. It’s very rare where you see that in ice dance. The junior to senior jump is big, but we’re focused on right now. I think we’re excited about the direction our skating is going in the next two years.”
Hoping to join the Shibutanis on the podium are Chock and Bates, who last year won their first world championship medal, a silver. Chock and Bates also earned a season-best score with their short dance. Their personal best of 74.47 was earned at the 2015 world championships, where they led after the short dance but were passed by Papadakis and Cizeron in the free.
“It’s been a long and bittersweet season for us,” said Bates, a two-time Olympian. “I made a mistake on my second twizzle in the sequence which cost us a level, so I’m a bit disappointed in myself for that, but it could have been worse.”
The third U.S. ice dance team, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, is in seventh with 68.44 points. Hubbell and Donohue are on their way to their career-best finish at worlds after placing 10th at both of their previous world championships appearances (2012, 2015).
“We have been trying so hard to hit the 70 mark this season, and it’s a big step up from what we did last year so we’re still extremely pleased with our progress,” Hubbell said. “It’s just one of those things that goes in the back of your mind, you want to hit 70. We knew that with a 68 we had missed some levels. … We’re still very pleased. Provided we end up higher than we did last year, we’re just so pleased with our performance; it was a lot of fun.”
Both skaters were visibly emotional after their short dance to K.D. Lang’s version of “Hallelujah,” which they said embodies their relationship on and off the ice.
“I think that’s why this program’s been so emotional for us,” Hubbell said. “It’s kind of that story in the program. And in the end when it’s so joyful and so overwhelming, it’s just bringing back hope to our skating. We’ve always been people who love the sport, but it’s true that when you go out and time after time after time you feel a little disappointed or you feel like you’re falling back, it takes the wind out of your sails.
“This season has been so confidence boosting and our new coaching staff has made us believe more in ourselves and what we’re capable of, so that’s what the performance was.”
If all three teams maintain or improve upon their placements Thursday, it will be the first time since 1956 that three U.S. teams finish in the top seven.