Shibutani siblings are ambassadors for sport in South Korea


Jeff Seidel, Detroit Free Press
Published 6:49 a.m. ET Aug. 21, 2017

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Take the Olympic ideal, blending sport with education and culture.

Use the Internet as a tool to unite people in a blink.

And you get this cool opportunity: Maia and Alex Shibutani, ice dancers who train in Canton, Mich., will use video conferencing to mentor students from Jinbu Middle School in Pyeongchang, South Korea, leading up to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Starting in September, Maia and Alex will host a series of monthly mentorship sessions with the students via video chat. In February, Maia and Alex are expected to meet the class when they travel to South Korea for the Winter Games.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to show how grateful we are to South Korea as the host country of the upcoming Olympic Games,” said Alex Shibutani, 26, of Ann Arbor, Mich. “And then share the Olympic values with these students.”

On one hand, it’s a way to build relationships and excitement for the Games. Maia and Alex, a brother-and-sister duo often referred to as the “Shib Sibs,” are tremendous ambassadors for the sport and for the Olympics.

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On the other hand, it tells you how much respect the Shibutanis have earned in the eyes of the U.S. Olympic Committee. They are three-time world championship medalists (2011 bronze, 2016 silver, 2017 bronze) and took ninth place in the 2014 Olympic Games.

“We will be sharing our passion for the Olympics and also talking about things like health and nutrition and the Olympic values,” said Maia Shibutani, 23, also of Ann Arbor. “We will also be learning from them, about their country, and I think it will build a lot of excitement about the Games.”

The program will be announced Monday by the USOC in partnership with the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee. It’s part of a legacy program the USOC has participated in at previous Games, aimed at thanking nations for hosting the Games.

Earlier, Maia and Alex Shibutani made a video, which was scheduled to be shown Monday at the school, on the first day of class.

“Alex and I love working with kids,” Maia said. “What’s really cool about this program is we are going to have the chance to meet them in person in February.”

Assuming, of course, that the Shib Sibs make it to the Winter Olympics. Which seems like a lock. They have medaled at the U.S. figure skating championships in 13 consecutive years, winning the national title last season.

“Our entire preparation, starting right after the world championships, is going really well,” Maia said. “We are working extremely hard and looking forward to this year.”

The Shib Sibs train at Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton under coach Marina Zueva.

“We have taken our creative process to another place entirely, the types of professionals we work with on our music, on our choreography,” Alex said. “And we have upped our game in the gym.”

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