Shibutanis sizzle to win short dance at nationals

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The ice should sizzle when dancing to a Latin beat.

Maia and Alex Shibutani made sure it did Friday to outdistance their top competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Not that Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, or Madison Chock and Evan Bates weren’t smokin’. Far from it as all three couples staked early claims to the trio of berths available for Americans at the Pyeongchang Olympics next month.

With hefty competition from French and Canadian duos, only one podium spot is likely to come the Americans’ way. All of the U.S. contenders belong in consideration after their latest performances.

Latin music, including a rhumba, is required this year for the short dance. The brother-sister combination — “Shib Sibs” — showed speed and strength and even a tad of wickedness in the routine. The two-time defending champions and three-time world medallists punctuated their program with eight side-by-side twizzle turns as their music counted uno through ocho.

That was Alex’s idea, and it worked perfectly.

“It was just something we were listening to Perez Prado’s library of music and I heard ‘Mambo No. 8,’ and we’re always trying to push the boundaries of what we’re capable of doing,” he said. “Obviously, you’re only required to do four rotations per set … on the twizzles but we just thought that it would be kind of clever and fun and it would entertain ourselves.”

“And the audience,” Maia chimed in.

Hubbell and Donohue have never won a U.S. title. Their short dance was alternately sultry, teasing and rocking. Their synchronization was so good they seemed to be shadows of one another, and their straight line footwork mirrored each other to perfection.

But the Shibutani siblings simply were better.

“I think we made a big statement by skating the way that we did,” Alex said. “It’s not in our control what the judges give us. If it was, then we would get amazing scores every single time.

“But I think we did make a statement with our performance today. Obviously there’s room for growth, but we’re very happy with what we did.”

Chock and Bates, the 2015 national gold medallists and like the Shibutanis 2014 Olympians — they finished eighth, one spot in front of the Shibs — were charismatic and innovative. At one point, she slid down from his knees to his ankles as he spun, prompting a gasp from some in the crowd.

The women’s free skate was scheduled for Friday night.

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