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.
These blogs are meant to capture a moment or period of time and provide insight into what Alex and I have been experiencing. It’s an understatement to say that so much has happened since the last blog we shared and things DEFINITELY aren’t slowing down.
I realize that if I delayed any further, Blog #4 would never be finished. While I never kept a daily journal (things have been too busy), this blog will be in journal format. In my spare time while in transit (aka when Alex was driving us around) and during the limited “free” time I put aside on the weekends, I chipped away at this blog. My writing time was so sporadic, and it was unreasonable to tie everything together and pretend like this post was written all in one go. Right now, I’m focused on being “in the moment,” and I realized that my understanding and perspective about my experiences changes every day.
This blog is unique, but it is the best way I can share what it’s been like preparing for the Olympic Games.
Jan. 14, 2018
First blog of 2018!
If you are a returning reader and were starting to feel like you had set expectations for what our blogs would be like… surprise!! Alex and I are breaking the pattern we just established. Even though I recently finished recapping 2017 to the best of my ability, here I am again writing ShibSibs Blog #4! Hope you don’t miss Alex’s writing and humor too much… With the events of the past few weeks, I decided I wanted to take this blog on myself.
If you are a new reader, “Welcome!” Also, check out this link to my 2017 recap! It is probably the best way you can be brought up to speed.
As I am getting back into the flow of writing again, let’s start with some facts:
1) It’s finally 2018. The XXIII Olympic Winter Games are right around the corner. #WinterIsComing
- *Correction: I’m writing this from Michigan and it’s currently 12° so…
2) Because of how busy it has been, I don’t know when this blog will be shared.
- That means I am unable to accurately tell you how many days are left before the Games begin on Feb. 8 (in the U.S.) and Feb. 9th (in Korea) <- *Wherever you are in the world, remember those dates and if you really want to know, Olympic countdown clocks can be found… pretty much everywhere.
3) Right now, I’m not sure how many athletes have qualified to represent Team USA in PyeongChang.
- Alex and I qualified and were officially named to our second Olympic team on Jan. 7 (or Jan. 8 if you’re in Korea!).
The U.S. Figure Skating team is made up of 14 athletes who will compete in four disciplines of figure skating. While team nomination and the selection process works differently for all of the winter sports, the nomination process for figure skating is based on results from recent international competitions and results at the U.S. championships.
The U.S. championships were held in San Jose, California at the beginning of this month. Now, when I reflect on that week of competition, the primary emotions I feel are pride, excitement and gratitude.
However if I’m being honest, because I’m human, competitive, and have high expectations and standards for myself, I was initially frustrated.
With time, perspective, love and support from my amazing brother/teammate, parents, coaches, friends, fellow athletes and supporters, that frustration has been replaced with fire, confidence and resolve.
If you’re wondering how flipping that switch is possible, allow me to share some of the lessons I’ve learned:
First, to summarize for those of you who didn’t watch or follow the competition, Alex and I skated an awesome short dance (first segment of the competition) and were in the lead by 3 points. With how competitive ice dance is, that was a strong lead and a statement. In the free dance (second segment of the competition), I caught an edge towards the end of our program. I didn’t catch my edge because I was nervous or lost focus – what happened was a fluke.
That mistake will never happen again and knowing that is definitely a little bittersweet and challenging. Of course I prefer that something like that happen during an inconsequential moment in training or practice instead of at a competition. After my little error, we kept fighting and attacking the performance, but because of that split second, we lost out on points we would have otherwise gotten. I felt responsible for why we didn’t leave San Jose with our third national title. We train and work so hard to be at our best, and I didn’t get to perform to my ability.
After reading the above paragraph, you probably understand and agree that “frustration” appropriately sums it up… right?
BUT, since I no longer feel that way, I’ll explain why I now feel pride, excitement and gratitude.
It starts with simply not having regrets. I forgive myself because I know that in the moment, I was giving it my all and attacking that performance. After 14 years of competing in ice dance and 19 years of being in this sport, I’m convinced that your life isn’t defined by the challenges you face, but by how you react to those challenges. The outcome of the competition wasn’t what I know we’re capable of, but that’s okay. As an athlete, I prefer that feeling as opposed to knowing I gave it my best and wondering why my best wasn’t enough.
I feel proud, excited and honored, because it is amazing that we will represent Team USA at our second Olympics. As expectations shift and grow, it is easy to be only forward-thinking. However, if you had told Alex and me when we were 9 and 12 and just starting out in ice dance that fourteen years later, we’d be headed to our second Olympics, I know we would have been overwhelmed with joy.
Finally, I feel gratitude because I have come to believe that things tend to happen for a (greater) reason. When planning out our season, Alex and I always had a few hopes when we were visualizing this period of time.
We wanted to be healthy. We are.
We wanted to love our programs. We do.
We wanted to continue steadily improving in the time we had between U.S. championships and the Games… We are!
Since returning from San Jose, Alex and I haven’t just been steadily improving and polishing. Instead, things have somehow shifted into another gear. Every day it feels like time has slowed down. We end our training day knowing we have accomplished multiple days’ worth of work. Things are unlocking, and now we are in a different place. I’m excited because while there is always pressure competing at a high level, Alex and I have been having fun while we’re training. It is amazing to feel like we are well on our way to being the strongest we have ever been.
Our coach, Marina Zoueva, said something to us at our first competition of the season that truly proves how wise she is. After we won that event (Rostelecom Cup in October) with the strongest season debut of our career, she said it was just a step towards Paradise. When she explained further, Marina said we wouldn’t want to deliver the same performance in February that we did four months earlier in October. She believed that reaching our paradise would be a journey. We believed her back then and as time has passed, I still know she is right.
Since we began this season, our goal was to be in our paradise at the Olympic Games. Early in our senior career, we learned that the path to fulfilling your dreams isn’t without heartache and challenges. Sometimes, things “fly away from your reach”. The message of the song “Paradise” is that you have to continue believing in yourself and your dreams. Since San Jose, Alex and I have been digging deep and in PyeongChang we will be ready to fly.
Jan. 22, 2018
What you just finished reading was what I wrote about a week after we were named to the Olympic team. At that point, we were only done with Week 1 of our training and preparation. Now, it’s nearing the end of the month. I’m thankful that I stopped writing at a point where I shared a complete thought. Time has brought even more perspective. Since the 14th, we’ve received really positive feedback on the work that we’ve done on our programs. It is an awesome feeling and we are completely focused on continuing to charge forward.
I am wrapping up this blog as Alex and I are flying back to Michigan after being in New York City for a quick 30 hours. The flight from New York to Detroit is only two hours and the lack of cell service is helping me buckle down and finish this blog. (Sorry for the delay, Team USA.)
I still don’t know how many athletes currently make up our U.S. Olympic Team, but it has been exciting to follow the qualification process for all of the different sports. Team USA is looking strong and it’s a group of athletes that is made up of friends/veterans and a lot of new faces/future friends.
My excitement for PyeongChang continues to grow every day. Today, we had the honor of helping Polo Ralph Lauren unveil Team USA’s Opening Ceremony look! The uniforms are beautiful and the wearable heat technology that they developed is innovative and thoughtful. *Make sure to check out ralphlauren.com because a lot of the village-wear pieces are really amazing. One of my favorite things is that you can now customize your own Team USA hat!
While I’m not sure when we will be writing our next blog or even who will write it, I would like to take a moment to say “thank you.” In New York City, in Michigan and on social media, I’ve been very touched by the good vibes being sent our way – by friends, fans and complete strangers. The support and encouragement means a lot to us, and it fuels us as we continue our preparations for February. Alex and I leave on Feb. 5 and between now and then, we know we will keep getting better. Till next time!