by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman & Robin Ritoss
Maia and Alex Shibutani were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame during the 2023 U.S. Championships in San Jose, California.
In 1998, Maia (4) and Alex (7) began their figure skating journey in Old Greenwich, CT, as single skaters. Five years later while watching the World Championships in Washington, DC from the second row, they were smitten by the swooshing sound left by the flying ice dancers. At the 2005 US Junior Championships the siblings won Juvenile silver and then Intermediate gold the following year. The team stood on the US Championships podium for the next 12 years.
In Pyeongchang, South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, the Shibutanis won bronze in the Team Event before taking home one of the same color for themselves. They were the first US siblings and first team of Asian descent to win an Olympic ice dance medal. Afterwards they announced their decision not to compete in 2018-2019.
In April, they joined the Stars on Ice 22-city tour across the US. The popular athletes received numerous invitations to hobnob with celebrities in the world of sport and entertainment. The Olympic medalists were saluted at the Super Bowl, US Tennis Open, Academy Awards and many more events.
Since 2017, the team had been Sports Envoys for the U.S. State Department’s Sport Diplomacy Office. They continued traveling to Japan, Korea, and Singapore speaking with students at cultural and goodwill events. At the invitation of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, they attended a dinner at the White House for the Japanese Ambassador.
While on tour with Stars on Ice in May, they announced they would not compete again in the 2019-2020 season, but would leave the door open for a possible return for the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Meanwhile, the siblings who loved competing and performing, also wanted to embark on some new and exciting projects. As middle school youngsters, Maia and Alex found a gap in fun books and stories about their heritage. There were no tales about Asian-American kids doing fun and exciting things and being heroes.
In May 2020, just before the Tokyo Olympics, they released Kudo Kids: The Mystery of the Masked Medalist about Japanese-American siblings Mika and Andy who travel to the Tokyo Olympics on a hunt for virtual medals.
The sequel, Kudo Kids: The Mystery in Manhattan, was released in 2021. Their next literary project is a non-fiction picture book for children.
Barbara Reichert hosted the Press Conference held prior to the Hall of Fame Induction. The USFS Senior Director, External Relations, introduced Maia and Alex Shibutani.
“For me personally, the Shibutanis were one of my first athletes in 2011 when I came to USFS. They were up and coming and just lighting the world on fire, so it’s good to be back with them.”
Alex noted their return to Nationals. “It’s special to be here again at yet another place where we have such fond memories and so much history as competitive skaters and performers.”
Maia reminded him of being in the Media room before they were competing at international championships when she was a back-stage photographer, and he was following reporters around. [Actually, they were guest bloggers and media aides at the 2006 U.S. Championships and later at the Four Continents in Colorado Springs where they trained at the time]
Alex explained their move to Los Angeles permanently in 2018 because of their creative process and a lot of great project collaborators in the Southern California area.
“There was a community there we were already familiar with,” Alex noted. “The way we have shared our experiences in sport and worked to grow the sport has been through story telling both on and off the ice. LA is a hub and center for story telling. As we continue to grow and challenge ourselves more, we thought it was a really good place to be.”
“One of the things we’re really proud of as we continue to work on different projects, is to think of each other as good teammates,” Maia said.
“The amount of work we had to put in to our partnership and relationship to be able to execute on a high level on the ice and then also aligning our different points of view creatively with all our various projects, takes a lot of work,” Alex added.
The siblings were asked about recent creative projects and perhaps expanding into new areas.
Alex noted the middle-school age mystery books from 2020 and 2021, then went into more detail about their latest collaboration – a children’s picture book scheduled for release on or about April 18, 2023.
“The book is titled, Amazing: Asian-American and Pacific Islanders Who Inspire Us All,” Alex said. “It focuses on change makers from history and contemporary figures (us not included). We wanted to create this book because we wish we had had the opportunity to read one like it when we were younger.”
“We’ve been fortunate to have models in the sport from all sorts of backgrounds and all walks of life. For the Asian-America Pacific Islander community, we wanted to create it not only for them, but so everyone would learn more about these accomplishments and be inspired and empowered to make the world a better place.”
“I’m extremely proud of Alex,” Maia said. “I had great skaters like Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan to look up to. He didn’t have someone who visually represented him in skating. I’ve definitely seen an impact on young skaters getting to meet Alex.”
“The Olympics in 2018 was an incredible experience for us,” Alex noted. “Since then, our sport, society and our culture as a whole have become more comfortable talking about representation, coming from different places and the nature of society in general, particularly in skating.
Alex responded to the possibility of expanding into music, television and film production. “We are working on developing projects and working on some [new] things, but at the present time we’re not able to talk about them in consideration of our partners.”
The pair commented on other skating events besides the 2018 Olympics that left an indelible mark on their career.
“I think first competing at the Sochi Games in 2014 was really impactful because we had dreamed about going to the Olympics since we were children,” Maia disclosed. “Joining Team USA in a greater role was amazing and inspiring for the next four years. Also 2016, when we won our first US Championship title and had the opportunity to compete in Boston [Alex’s birth city] at the World Championships, was memorable.”
Alex continued, “Having that home Worlds is something I wish for every skater to have – to get that boost of adrenaline and energy and crowd support.”
Maia and Alex’s parents, Naomi and Chris, continue to be very supportive of their son and daughter’s career choices and planned to attend the ceremony later in the day.
“They’ve always been a grounding presence for us, and they continue to be,” Maia noted. “Thinking about the sacrifices they made along the way, for us not to feel that additional pressure was so important.”
“Our parents never wanted anything else for us but to be happy,“ Alex added. “We were so privileged that they trusted and allowed us to make decisions and gave us unconditional support along the way, especially in the senior ranks. They were at every competition they could go to. Knowing that we had family there was always meaningful.”
“From day one to now, it has been family. In the most competitive circumstances, the most disappointing, frustrating valleys of the journey, we stuck together and believed in each other. It definitely makes today so meaningful for us.”
Closing the Press Conference, the Shib Sibs shared their thoughts about the induction and appreciation of ice dance.
“We are so grateful to be joining all the athletes who are in the Hall of Fame and doing it with Paul George,” Maia said.
“I’m truly grateful for all the coaches I’ve had with the sport. It was a sense of fun that drew me in, and while it’s not always been fun, we had so many great people influence us at different points in our career, and that’s impacted everything.”
“To echo Maia, we’ve been so fortunate to cross paths with and walk along side so many incredibly talented, but also so kind and generous people whether it be even for the hour lesson. That is how we’ve approached it – always continuing to grow and learn from people who want to teach. They have made us the people we are today.
“We will always represent figure skating and the sport of ice dance in anything we do. We appreciate its beauty and the lessons we learned and how influential and amazing these special moments will be.”
In conclusion, Reichert announced that Maia and Alex would be participating in the Ice Dance medal ceremony.
“They will be congratulating former competitors and young competitors who look up to them as well. It will be a wonderful full circle moment.”