LAKE PLACID - For their first Saturday Night Ice Show of the new summer skating season, Lake Placid proudly hosted rising stars Maia and Alex Shibutani and Ross Miner.
They might be relatively young in the non-skating world, but 17-year-old Maia Shibutani, 21-year-old Alex Shibutani and 21-year-old Ross Miner have already accomplished much in skating. Miner is a two-time National bronze medalist who placed third in the Four Continents Grand Prix event in 2012. The Shibutanis have earned a bronze in the 2011 World Championships, silver in the 2011 Four Continents event and two National silver medals.
Despite these achievements, the three of them remain focused on their personal best instead of striving simply for medals or international ranking.
Photo by Christie Sausa
From left, Alex Shibutani, Maia Shibutani and Ross Miner pose for a picture at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. The trio was in town for the first week of the Saturday Night Ice Show.
"Our goal is always improving for ourselves, that's all you can do," Maia said. "We just want to show improvement, that's our big goal."
Naturally, the Shibutanis also aim to be contenders for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
"We want to take the necessary steps in our own skating and our own maturity so we're ready when that time comes," said Alex.
Miner's goals are similar.
"I want to keep improving and keep enjoying skating," Miner said. "Last year, I didn't really feel like I had a competition where I was totally pleased with myself. I want to have a competition this year where I feel that it is good and what I can do-I know if I do that I will get the results that I want."
Both skaters started skating for different reasons. Miner started as a hockey player before he became interested in figure skating after watching others skate at his local rink, while the Shibutanis were just interested in learning it as a skill. Maia was 4 years old and Alex was 7 when they started basic skills classes.
"We grew up on the East Coast and skating parties were really popular, so we wanted to learn how to skate so we could enjoy ourselves there," Maia said.
"I saw that Maia was having fun, so I started to skate too," added Alex.
The Shibutanis were formerly freestyle skaters, and their decision to switch to ice dance was motivated by their attendance at the 2003 World Championships. It was there that they were exposed to elite ice dancing.
"Prior to that, we hadn't really watched ice dance because we were so singles skating oriented," Alex said. "But we were really impressed by the dancers like Tanith (Belbin) and Ben (Agosto), how much speed they had and their skating skills. So we realized that we had a partner in each other and gave it a try."
During the Shibutanis' first year at the juvenile level at the US Junior National Championships, they came in second place-an excellent placement for skaters new to the scene.
"After that placement, everything just followed suit from there," Alex said.
From that accomplishment, the Shibutanis continued to astound the skating world, most recently by winning the bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships. This world championship was unique in the fact that it was relocated from Tokyo, Japan to Moscow, Russia after the tragic tsunami and earthquake that took place in Japan.
"It was great to be there, at our first world championships, and I think that showed in our skating," Alex said. "Our goal was to skate well, and we were so happy to achieve the result that we did."
"To stand on the podium with our training mates and coaches was definitely an experience," added Maia.
Miner also had an excellent season last year.
"My first Grand Prix (competition) did not go as planned. I was disappointed with my short program, but I thought 'this could not get any worse, so I'm just going to go out and enjoy myself for the long program,'" Miner said.
Miner also competed in the NHK Trophy in Japan, where his short program experience was better.
"I had a chance to redeem myself in the short program, and had a good long program the consistency of my training paid off, and I ended up earning a bronze," he said.
Miner placed third at the US National Championships this past season after a determined effort.
"I didn't skate great in the long program, but showed good fight and good training, and earned third instead," Miner said.
From there, he qualified for Four Continents Championships.
"Again, my training paid off, because the competition was in Colorado Springs at altitude," Miner said. "It was a solid skate and I was proud of it. I placed third again, so it was the year of bronzes."
While Miner trains in Boston with coaches Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, Maia and Alex Shibutani skate in Canton, Michigan with Marina Zueva. But they mention the resemblances between the two cities and both enjoy exploring their training towns when not skating.
"We live in Ann Arbor, which is a college town, so there's always stuff to do with our friends from the rink," Maia said.
"Boston is also a college town, there is always something going on it's more like a college city," Miner said.
It is difficult to have spare time when you're training at an elite level in figure skating, but the Shibutanis and Miner spend it wisely.
"When we're not at the rink skating, we're either in class or working out, or taking off-ice classes that apply to skating," explained Alex. "When we have spare time, we spend it with friends and family or relaxing."
"I play golf and tennis, and like to spend time with friends and family when I'm not skating," Miner said.
Like many elite skaters, both Miner and the Shibutanis have a history with Lake Placid. Although Miner has arguably spent more time training here, the Shibutanis frequented Lake Placid for the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships.
"We enjoyed coming to Lake Placid for the ice dance competition to get our programs out there, meet new people and see our friends each year. It sort of became a tradition," Alex said. "We haven't been back since the Junior Grand Prix in 2009, so it was exciting to come skate in the show."
"There's a lot of history here, so it's kind of cool and inspiring to skate in these rinks," added Maia.
Miner trained in Lake Placid during the summer before making Boston his homebase.
"Growing up in Vermont, this was the skating mecca of the area. I came here in the summer to work with Tommy Litz, who really made skating fun for me," he said. "I have all these great memories here - this is really the first place where I could honestly say I love to skate."