Mac and Cheese. That’s what their first coach called them, mainly because Alex Shibutani had a habit of turning to the judges and flashing an exuberant grin, even if it meant not looking where he was going.
He’s still a bit of a ham, but now those smiles will be directed at the Olympic judges in Sochi. It’s been a long journey for Alex and his sister Maia, one of seven sibling sets competing for the U.S. at the Games, and it’s an odyssey that they’ve taken as a family.
It was Maia who started skating first, seeing it as the perfect way to express what she heard, every day at home, in music. Parents Naomi and Chris Shibutani, both former competitive musicians (she’s a pianist, he’s a flutist), always had some kind of music playing when the family was getting ready for dinner at their home, first in Boston, then in Connecticut – classical, jazz, contemporary, it didn’t matter.
After Maia learned to skate at birthday parties, she took to freestyling on the ice to lengthy CDs that Naomi put together for her. An early favorite was Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet score; tiny six-year-old Maia would think nothing of skating for 20 minutes straight to the soaring music, making everything up as she went. “People who saw her would ask, ‘Who choreographed a 20-minute program for a six-year-old?’” says Chris.