Four years ago, siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani went to Skate America and finished third, more than 30 points behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
Davis and White became the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions later that winter. The Shibutanis were ninth.
Four years brought change. Davis and White haven’t competed since Sochi and won’t defend their title in PyeongChang.
No worry, the Shibutanis took over and now lead the deepest ice dance nation in the world (surpassing Olympic teammates Madison Chock and Evan Bates). They earned world championships silver medals in 2016 and bronze medals last season.
They won Skate America convincingly on Sunday, tallying 194.25 points, a personal best by nearly three points in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Only Davis and White’s Sochi Olympic score is higher in U.S. history, though scores rise overall every year.
The Shibutanis prevailed by 12.62 points over Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, who won the 2014 World title, one month after the Winter Games.
So it wasn’t quite Davis/White dominance, but they have now won five straight Grand Prix series events dating to 2015.
“Every competition is a stepping stone, and the obvious goal is making sure that the programs and we are at our very best in February,” Alex said.
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The Shibutanis are Olympic medal favorites, looking to become the first siblings to win Olympic figure skating medals together since France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.
France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir figure to fight for gold.
An American couple should join them on the podium, but which one?
There are Chock and Bates, two-time world medalists. There are Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who had the top score among all U.S. couples this season before the Shibutanis’ exquisite performances in Lake Placid.
“We never really pay too close attention to the scores that we get,” Alex said. “It’s more the feeling that we have. … There’s definitely room for growth in our base values with the footwork sequences in the free dance. So our score can improve.”
For the third straight year, those three U.S. couples will make up half of the Grand Prix Final field in two weeks.
The Grand Prix Final takes the top six per discipline from the fall Grand Prix season, which essentially makes it an Olympic preview this year.
Four years ago, the Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue ranked Nos. 7, 8 and 9 in the Grand Prix season. They could only watch as Davis and White won the Grand Prix Final en route to Olympic gold.
Now, it’s their turn, and the brother and sister known as the Shib Sibs lead the way.
“This is the competition that we wanted to have before the Grand Prix Final,” Maia said.
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1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 194.25
2. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 181.63
3. Victoria Sinitsina / Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 176.53
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 163.53
9. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 145.54