Maia Shibutani is a 2014 Olympic ice dancer who competes with her brother Alex. The Shibutanis are three-time world championships medalists, four-time Four Continents medalists, two-time U.S. champions and 14-time grand prix medalists. Maia and Alex are writing about their journey for TeamUSA.org as they approach the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Happy Holidays! As December and 2017 come to a close, Team USA has asked us to recap “Our __ Top Moments Of 2017.” It’s my turn to write again and Alex has inspired me! His last post was informative AND full of humor. It was also shorter. This time, I’m writing most of the following in list format. It’s a long list, but I will do my best to be more concise - absolutely no promises though... We did a lot in 2017!
When I reflect on 2017, I feel very proud. While each year is important, at the start of 2017, Alex and I had the conviction that every day was an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves as athletes and people. We have been motivated and focused on pushing ourselves in our preparations for February and the upcoming Winter Olympics. Our approach when it comes to improvement has been multi-faceted. On the ice, our process continued to grow and be more involved, and, in turn, more fulfilling. Consistent and specific off-ice work and time in the gym has us in the best shape of our lives. During the moments that we were not physically pushing ourselves, we weren’t “chilling out.” Instead, we found being open to new and unfamiliar experiences was enriching, provided balance, and was energizing in a different way.
The number of “moments” that I will highlight is 17. I’m sure you all understand why I picked 17. I know that’s a lot, but to begin with, I struggled to eliminate things. We’ve been really busy! Since it would be even harder for me to rank/list moments based on their personal meaning, this list is in chronological order. In addition, I’m using corresponding images. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words… right?
1. Jan. 21, 2017: We won our second U.S. championships title in Kansas City, Missouri. Repeating as champions was the result of a lot of hard work, and it was an exciting way to begin our year. We also found out that our short dance performance went viral on Facebook. NBC Olympics uploaded our “That’s Life” Sinatra/Jay-Z program to their page twice. The video uploaded on Jan. 20 got 4.1 million views. A second video of the same performance was uploaded on Jan. 21 and accumulated 8.3 million views. This was amazing because one of our goals was to create programs that were accessible and entertaining to people who are fans of the sport AND people who have never watched ice dance. In a non-Olympic year, it was not only a big accomplishment, but a rewarding experience creating something that worked with the requirements that mixed blues and hip-hop and resonated with a lot of people.
2. Jan. 28, 2017: Episode 304 of “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn” came out on Nickelodeon. Alex and I were guest stars in the live-action comedy series. We filmed our appearance in May of 2016, but it was so cool to see how the episode came together. Filming our roles was a different and unique experience. We were lucky because everyone in the cast was so welcoming, and it was also fun to try a different type of performance. After growing up watching Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, it was surreal to see ourselves in a sitcom.
3. Feb. 14–19, 2017: The 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Gangneung, South Korea was one of the best competitions of our career. It was special because we were competing in the actual 2018 Olympic venue. The event definitely had an elevated energy. I was dealing with a virus during the competition, but we trusted our training and were “in the moment.” It was an experience that built a lot of confidence and gave us very good memories to pull from as we visualize and prepare for this February. This competition was also especially memorable because while we were there, we finalized our decision for our Olympic free dance.
4. Feb. 20– 21, 2017: After the competition, our time in Korea was extended so we could go to Seoul to serve as Sports Envoys. It was a huge honor for us to be asked to represent Team USA in that capacity. We had the chance to spend time with kids and students of all ages. We taught a skating clinic, learned about food, dance and culture, and hosted a Youth Forum at the U.S. Embassy. Other skaters who have served as a diplomacy envoy or sports envoys include Michelle Kwan, Rachael Flatt and Evan Lysacek. Since we’ve admired all three for what they’ve done in our sport, it meant a lot to us to be asked to join their ranks.
5. Feb. 22–27, 2017: We flew directly to Los Angeles from Korea. This week was a highlight because we continued to work on training for the 2016-17 season, as well as begin laying the groundwork for the Olympic season. We loved working with one of the skaters we’ve always admired, Renee Roca. We also attended our first Oscars party representing LA 2028 as Athlete Advisory Commission members.
6. March 22 & March 30–April 1, 2017: As we were preparing for the world championships, Mike Tirico visited our rink to watch us train. After our session, we had the chance to talk with him about a lot of different topics. He is someone we’ve always admired, so that was really cool! At the end of March, we competed at our seventh world championships and won our third world medal. Alex and I were happy with the growth we showed during the 2016-17 season, and it was a great way to cap a successful season.
7. April 2– 7, 2017: We started our Olympic season in Switzerland working with Stéphane Lambiel. Starting the journey of our Olympic season there felt right. It was a very peaceful place to think and be creative. During that trip, we also visited the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. If you’re ever in Switzerland, definitely try and visit. The museum is both beautiful and inspiring.
8. April 27–28, 2017: Alex and I were in Los Angeles and spent two days at the NBC Olympics/United States Olympic Committee promo shoot in West Hollywood. In 2013, we were invited to the pre-Olympic promo shoots before our first Olympics, but this time, we had a shoot on the ice as well as in the studios. We shot at East West Ice Palace - Michelle Kwan’s rink. Seeing her trophy room was so memorable. Michelle was one of my heroes when I began skating. While the in-studio promo shoots were packed and busy, I enjoyed them because it was a chance to reflect and quickly catch up with athletes from different sports. We also met and filmed videos with Elmo and Cookie Monster. That was an ultimate childhood-dream come true.
9. June/July, 2017: Umm… Does two months count as a moment? June and July were important because of how much work we accomplished. It’s not just in an Olympic season that those weeks are important. The start of summer is peak time for us to be creating while also getting stronger off ice. We were in Ann Arbor, Michigan; LA; and New York. No matter what our working hours were, balancing choreography with training and developing our music; fulfilling sponsor commitment; and working on other projects, we always made time to become more fit. I started to work out with Kirk Myers at the Dogpound in New York. Due to time constraints, when I used to travel, if something slipped, it was having time to workout. Instead this year, the work I did off the ice specifically made me stronger. The workouts with Kirk were challenging, but it was exciting and rewarding to see how much I could physically push myself.
One of the “off-ice” highlights was attending the “Spider-Man Homecoming” premier. I am a huge Marvel and superhero fan and we got to talk to Angelenos and share our excitement for bringing the Olympics back to Los Angeles and the United States.
10. July 16–Sept. 28, 2017: This period of time was a special “moment” because this is how long my fundraiser page for the non-profit, charity: water, was open. For my birthday, I set the ambitious goal of raising enough money to fund an entire water project. It was my first time attempting to raise that much money to support a cause I really believe in. In the end, 153 people came together to help raise $10,072! It was incredibly touching to me that people came together to help.
11. Aug. 21, 2017: This is the day that the “Thank You, PyeongChang” program was launched! Team USA asked us to be the athlete ambassadors for this program with students in South Korea at Jinbu Middle School. It’s our role to exchange information with these students and represent our country and teammates. Once a month, we’ve had lessons over Skype with these students. With the time difference, these sessions are at night for us and in the morning for them. No matter how tired we are after a long day of training, we always love our time with the students. These kids are amazing, and discussing the Olympic values and learning about Korean culture from them has meant a lot to us. Their excitement really highlights the power of the Olympics. After 20 years, Alex and I are excited to see the impact of having the Winter Olympics back in Asia.
12. 2017: While I can’t list a specific date for this “moment,” we have had the incredible experience in 2017 of working with companies that are now our sponsors. The timing for these announcements has been spread out throughout the year. At this point we are proud to be working with Ralph Lauren, Minute Maid, Ice Breakers, Milk-Bone and TUMI. Shoot days have taken place throughout 2017, and a lot of exciting content will be coming out as we head towards February. My organizational and time-management skills were tested, but everything was fit in so that our training time wasn’t affected. We are grateful to work with such amazing people and companies who have all understood that our top priority and focus is our skating.
13. Sept. 22, 2017: On our way to the Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah, Alex and I went to Las Vegas to attend the iHeartRadio Music Festival. It was our first time at that event and we went because we had the opportunity to meet with Coldplay again. Being able to express how impactful their music has been for us and tell them that we were skating to “Paradise” for this Olympic season was special. Seeing them perform live again was inspiring. We also got to give them some 2018 Olympic Ralph Lauren swag.
When she was just a girl She expected the world But it flew away from her reach So she ran away in her sleep And dreamed of paradise... • Really special seeing @coldplay again before our Olympic season begins. On our way to the #TeamUSAMediaSummit, @alexshibutani and I stopped in Las Vegas at the #iHeartFestival. Their music has inspired us to work to become the skaters, athletes, and artists we have always wanted to be. We couldn't imagine skating to anything else as we continue on our journey. • Right after this photo was taken, we rushed to our seats and they ran on stage for their set. It was amazing watching them perform again!
14. Sept. 24–26, 2017: The Team USA Media Summit was an event with packed days of interviews, photo shoots and video shoots. While the schedule was crazy, having a moment to reflect and appreciate the “journey” is something that is very valuable. In the year before the Olympics, it’s easy to only work and think about what you have to accomplish next. Being reunited with our friends from the different winter sports was a highlight because we were able to reflect on how far we had all come since 2014. At the end of our time in Park City, Utah, we had the huge honor of being asked to be on the LA 2028 panel with Janet Evans and Casey Wasserman. The Games were officially awarded to Los Angeles on Sept. 13. Janet and Casey are such impressive people, and although it felt like a lot of responsibility to be on a panel with them, it was easy for us to share our excitement for the Games returning to LA in 2028.
15. Oct. 17-22, 2017: Our first competition of the season was Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, Russia. There is always a lot of anticipation when you compete and debut your programs for the first time. Since we decided to debut during the Grand Prix Series, there was a little extra pressure. Our plan for trusting our own process worked for us! We spent the time we wanted from March through October conceptualizing and developing our programs. This competition was our strongest season debut ever. In our eighth year on the grand prix circuit, it was special to come away with our 14th grand prix medal and our fifth grand prix gold.
16. Nov. 1, 2017: 100 Days Out celebration! Need I say more? Before Sochi, I remember celebrating 100 Days Out at home. This time around, we were invited to celebrate it in Times Square with Team USA. One of the highlights of that day was modeling the official Ralph Lauren Closing Ceremony parade uniform at the unveiling on the “TODAY” show with Jamie Anderson and Gus Kenworthy.
17. Nov. 23– 26, 2017 & Dec. 5– 9, 2017: To close out 2017, we had two competitions within three weeks. First, we were in Lake Placid, New York, to compete at Skate America – our second grand prix assignment. The crowd was amazing and having the opportunity to compete in the United States is something that Alex and I always appreciate. We showed a lot of growth and progress since our first competition, and won our sixth grand prix gold. That result qualified us for the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan at the beginning of this month. At the Grand Prix Final, there are only six teams in the event, and we qualified for the Final all four years of this Olympic cycle. Alex and I left Japan with a bronze medal and a plan on how we are going to attack 2018 and the second half of our season. Next up is the U.S. championships in San Jose, California, at the beginning of January.
I hope all of you enjoy the last days of 2017 with your friends and family. Alex and I will be spending our days at the rink, but it’s all good. There are 43 days left until the Opening Ceremony and we are looking forward to 2018!
I’m going to close with one of my favorite quotes and a writer’s note:
“Happiness, I have discovered, is nearly always a rebound from hard work.”
*Writer’s Note: If reading long blogs/lists isn’t really your thing, but you’re still interested in what we’re up to, follow us on social media! (I totally had to go through my Instagram in order to narrow down and remember everything we did this year.)
If you’re interested, we have been documenting our creative process in our vlogs and those videos can be found on our YouTube channel.