LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- In their eight seasons on the senior grand prix circuit, Maia and Alex Shibutani have competed at Skate America five times, but the 2017 version takes the cake.
At least in terms of audience participation.
The brother-sister ice dance duo made that clear after they finished performing their short dance Saturday night in the Herb Brooks Arena, which hosted the famed Miracle on Ice at the Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid 1980. The venue was filled near capacity (it seats close to 8,000).
“No offense to any other Skate America crowds, but this one is definitely the best Skate America crowd we’ve ever skated in front of,” Alex, 26, said. “That’s saying something because the American fans and all the fans that travel from around the world are always really supportive.”
“The crowd was incredible, it felt like they were cheering us on the entire program,” Maia, 23, said. “We could hear them clapping from the start. This program is so high energy but we have so much fun performing it, so it was really such a pleasure for us today.”
The Shibutanis used the high-energy crowd to set a personal-best short dance score of 79.18, which beat the mark they set at last season’s Grand Prix Final by more than a point. They’re performing their short dance this season to a Perez Prado medley composed of mambo, cha cha and samba moves, as this season’s assigned rhythm for ice dance teams is Latin.
Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte sit in second going into Sunday’s free dance with a score of 72.70, while Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia are third with 68.72.
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“It felt really good and there’s just really good energy here in Lake Placid,” Alex noted. “Two Olympic Games have been here and it’s the Olympic season, so taking that energy with us we put out a strong performance.”
The personal best score and strong performance is a good sign of things to come in a season where the Shib Sibs, as they’re known, are looking to make their second consecutive Olympic team and, after medaling at the past two world championships, come away with some hardware there as well.
For the first time in their careers, the Shibutanis were assigned the first and last grand prix events, meaning they had to wait five weeks between the first and second competitions of their season – which gave them plenty of time to improve their performance from last month’s Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, where they took gold, but also created some anticipation leading up to this week’s Skate America.
“We’ve been working on all the details for this program (since Russia), and it was another strong outing for us when it comes to the levels, so it was really great to see that progress that we’ve made when it comes to the performance,” Maia said.
“Also it felt like it had been a long time since we had gotten out on the ice and competed, doing the first and last grand prixs, so we were just excited to be out there and the audience was really amazing tonight,” Alex added. “It was awesome to be out there.”