Ann Arbor's Shibutanis face daunting task in ice dance

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit —  Maia and Alex Shibutani of Ann Arbor have some catching up to do in the ice dance at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The Shibutanis find themselves in fourth place behind the U.S. champions Madison Hubbell, of Okemos, and Zachary Donohue, again, in third, heading into the final round Monday.

And the Americans, Italians and Russians are all chasing the Canadians and French, long shots to catch them.

The final night of the Olympic ice dancing competition Monday (8 p.m., NBC, NBCSN), the free dance, sets up like two close contests.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will duel with Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France for the gold medal.

The loser should get quite a consolation prize, the silver medal.

More: Virtue, Moir lead ice dancing after record short dance

Virtue and Moir, who trained at the Arctic Edge in Canton, for both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, before taking two years off and restarting their careers in Montreal, achieved the highest score ever in the short dance, 83.67.

They won the gold medal in 2010 in Vancouver before Meryl Davis and Charlie White, of Ann Arbor and Metro Detroit, beat them in 2014 at Sochi.

Davis and White declined to defend their Olympic title this year.

A wardrobe malfunction cost Papadakis and Cizeron, and they stand second, with an 81.93 score in the short dance.

The malfunction occurred when Cizeron brushed his arm along Papadakis’s shoulders and appeared to loosen a tethering string on the slinky outfit that had just been sewn by one of their coaches in an emergency repair before the skate.

Five couples, including three with significant roots in Michigan, appear poised to contest the bronze medal.

They include the three American couples, Hubbell and Donohue (77.75), the Shibutanis (77.73) and Madison Chock, of Novi, and Evan Bates, of Ann Arbor (75.45), who stand seventh.

The .02 margin between Hubbell and Donohue and the Shibutanis reflects the closeness of their competition.

All three American couples finished within a point at the national championships in San Jose, last month.

While Chock and Bates trail, in all three-way competitions with the other two U.S. couples, recently, they have won the free dance. They clearly capable of gaining ground.

Standing fifth are Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy (76.57).

Sixth are Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia (75.47), who are competing with the Olympic Athletes of Russia team.

Amid the salsas, sambas, rumbas and merengues of the short dance in the ice dancing competition in Pyeongchang on Sunday, Metro Detroit grabbed a huge portion of the spotlight.

Nine of the 24 teams competing all train at local skating clubs.

A few of the other teams have also trained there, earlier in their careers, like Virtue and Moir.

The Shibutanis, who train at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton had a little trouble with their rumba and partial step sequence. It reduced their score, clearly enough to drop them to fourth.

They tend to have the weakest free dance of the three American couples.

A stumble by Maia at nationals delivered the championship to Hubbell and Donohue

“The free dance is a personal story for us,” Alex said. “We’re skating to ‘Paradise,’ by Coldplay.

“The program has evolved a lot over the course of the season. Since the U.S. Championships, we’ve been putting in a lot of work on it.

“We know that the program is capable of getting a really, really strong score.”

Their coach, Marina Zueva, thinks some changes since the difficult skate at the nationals can make a difference.

“We did lots of musical adjustments,” Zueva said, of recent work in Canton, before they left for South Korea.

“We did a little different combinations and stuff. We worked a lot on the free dance, and now it looks set.”

But Hubbell and Donohue are skating with considerable ease and determination, as they showed against last night in the short dance.

“It was so overwhelming, honesty,” said Hubbell immediately after the skate, on the NBC broadcast.

“Are we allowed to use the word terrified?” said Donohue also on the broadcast. “It’s a huge moment.”

“It was just an emotional day for me, you know?” said Hubbell in the broadcast interview. “Just trying to let in that gratitude of being here, and also be strong. I’m really looking forward to going out again, tomorrow.”