Shibutanis scale back for a while but ‘definitely not’ retiring

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani

The Shibutanis’ preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics began almost immediately after the conclusion of the 2014 Games. Now, they're taking an extending break, having announced earlier this month that they're skipping the 2018-19 figure skating season.

But that should not be confused with any retirement plans.

"No, definitely not," Alex Shibutani, one half of the brother-sister, bronze medal-winning ice-dancing team, told The Detroit News this weekend. "Everyone's really excited about what we did, but it took so much dedication, time and sleepless nights.

"And then the immediate question is, 'What are you going to be doing in four years?' We undergo so much training and effort, and just to have gotten through that and immediately be asked, 'Are you ready to do it again?' It is a little daunting."

The reality is, said Alex and Maia Shibutani, is they're in a much different place than they were four years ago.

They didn't medal in 2014, and were younger and less experienced, so the training regimen for their second Olympics was understandably extreme.

Now, the Shib Sibs, as they're affectionately known, are fresh off winning two bronze medals in Pyeongchang, South Korea -- one for the United States team, one for their individual performance -- and they feel they're in much better position to take this extended step back from competition.

"We had a lot of growing to do between our first and second Olympics," said Maia Shibutani, who, with her brother, has lived and trained in Ann Arbor since 2007. "At that stage, it took the full four years for us to reach the point of being one of the elite teams."

If you're wondering if age will be a concern in 2022 in Beijing, Alex will be 30 and Maia will be 27.

This year's gold-medalists, Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, were 28 and 30, respectively.

"You only would get better with age," said Alex, "I would think."

The Shibutanis have maintained a full international schedule for the past 14 years, with no fewer than five major competitions for the past 10. So excuse them if they want to relax a bit rather than live, eat and breathe the gym and the ice -- and maybe enjoy a fatty, tasty meal or two for a change. (Alex's Twitter account suggests that's a priority.)

For now, the Shibutanis say they are exploring various other projects, both together and separately, including continued work on their popular social-media channels, especially YouTube. And they're still keeping up a very packed schedule, bouncing all over the country for a variety of commitments, with many doors having opened thanks to their new-found fame as Olympic darlings.

They're also participating in "Stars on Ice" for the second time, and just completed their eighth show of the run Saturday. The tour takes them home this week, with a show at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Saturday. It'll be their first time at the new arena, and they are planning a couple programs, including their popular "That's Life" Frank Sinatra/Jay-Z re-mix, and their Coldplay routine. The tour also stops at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena on May 4.

"The schedule has been really busy and hectic, but exciting," Maia said. "There's nothing like skating in front of an audience."

Stars on Ice

When: 7:30 Saturday

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

Tickets: $12 to $170, available at

Who: Among the stars performing will be the Shib Sibs, Alex and Maia Shibutani, as well as fellow Olympic heroes including Adam Rippon and Nathan Chen.