2018 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships | Another Three-Way Battle in Ice Dance

By Lynn Rutherford

Photo by Joosep Martinson - ISU/ISU via Getty Images

Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani go for their third consecutive U.S. title in San Jose, and their free dance set to Coldplay’s “Paradise” has been in the works since January 2016, when they gained a standing ovation and won their first crown with another Coldplay free skate, “Fix You.”

The move to a freer, emotionally open style put the siblings on the World podium for the first time since 2011. In San Jose, the three-time World medalists aim for their best programs ever.

“(2016) was a breakthrough for us — we put ourselves out there and were vulnerable,” Alex said. “Every path we took, every fork in the road, we made a decision that took us to where we are now. Part one was “Fix You” and us being sort of symbolically broken and fixing ourselves. Part two last season was “Evolution,” sort of the transition period to the closing chapter of a trilogy.”

“If it weren’t for all of the experiences we’ve had, we wouldn’t be as connected to (this season’s) free dance,” Maia says. “We never stopped believing in ourselves, and we are lucky we had a core group of people that continue to support us and help us grow.”

A third U.S. title, though, is far from assured. The siblings face strong challenges from two-time World medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, as well as Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. The top three teams, along with a group of up-and-coming couples, give the U.S. the world’s deepest ice dance field.

“This is our sixth season together and we feel like we’re just now coming into our own,” Bates said. “We had a real period of growth this off-season that we haven’t experienced in the past. Last year was up and down, so we looked at what worked, what didn’t.”

“We repackaged ourselves — almost all of our elements are new this season,” Chock said.

Hubbell and Donohue are filled with confidence, having earned the best international scores of their career this fall. The four-time U.S. bronze medalists make it clear: they will not be satisfied with another third-place finish.

“The thing we have is that raw chemistry,” Donohue told icenetwork at the 2017 Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah. “We don’t hold back with each other, ever. The thing that’s been missing has been that technical execution, and that’s something we’re focusing so much on now. I feel like we’re trying to bring that to our whole package.”

Read all the disciplines’ U.S. Championships previews in this month’s SKATING.