Shibutanis top U.S. Champs short dance, followed by shake-up

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The top three U.S. ice dance couples are as expected, but in an order we’ve never seen.

Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani topped the short dance at the U.S. Championships on Friday in San Jose, Calif.

The three-time world medalists, seeking a national title three-peat, scored 82.33 points.

“We’re skating better than we ever have before,” Maia said on NBCSN.

“We’re working to be the best team in the world,” Alex added.

Usually, Madison Chock and Evan Bates are their primary competition. Not this year.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who finished third or fourth at each of the last six nationals, are in second going into Sunday’s free dance.

They tallied 79.10 points.

“We’ve made it our time,” Donohue said on NBCSN. “This is our year to upset it.”

The free dance is Sunday, live on NBC and streaming on NBCOlympics.com at 3 p.m. ET.

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Chock and Bates are in third with 77.61, which is 2.35 points fewer than they scored in last year’s short dance.

Chock and Bates were the top U.S. dance team after Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition after their Sochi Olympic title, but they were passed by the Shibutanis in 2016 and now could be fading to third in the deepest ice dance nation.

These three couples — among the top six in the world — are the overwhelming favorites to make up the U.S. Olympic team named Sunday evening.

They finished within one point of each other at December’s Grand Prix Final, the biggest international event this season before the Olympics.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter if these couples finish first or third on Sunday when it comes to clinching a PyeongChang spot.

But in ice dance, where reputation matters more than any other discipline, the U.S. champion will arguably be the Olympic bronze-medal favorite.

“To go into the Olympic Games as the No. 1 team from the United States is a big statement,” Davis said Friday.

The gold- and silver-medal favorites are the last two world champions — Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

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