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Reflecting on Worlds: Shibutani Magic

  • Reflecting on Worlds: Shibutani Magic

    Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani of the United States perform during the Ice Dance Free Dance at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, March 31, 2016. / AFP / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

By the time Maia and Alex Shibutani took centre ice at the TD Garden, everyone in that arena already knew that the French couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron were going to win. This was no slight on the Shibutanis' ability or any indication of anything shady; it was simply that Papadakis and Cizeron had been so breathtakingly perfect - and indeed, set a new world record - that it was no longer possible for even a clean Shibutani program to catch them.

But that wasn't about to stop the Shibutani siblings from trying.

Their free dance, to Coldplay's Fix You, had been a talking point all season long. People were calling it a masterpiece, their best dance ever. It was an intensely personal piece showcasing their journey as skaters, and it had been a smash hit not just with the crowds, but with the judges.

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On Boston ice, the city they were born, in the USA, we were ready to love them.

When you try your best but you don't succeed...

The first lyrics floated out, and already there was a sensation of what they were about to make us feel. Every movement told us a story - their story. A curve lift was the first moment to elicit applause from the crowd, applause that was quickly hushed as the program took hold of us all. A pair spin only seemed to draw the crowd in, and the straight line lift right before the building of the music only added to the effect.

By the time Maia and Alex moved into their circular step sequence, the crowd was well and truly sold, clapping along with the beat for half of the sequence before they were awed into silence, or perhaps, anticipation, as the music began to swell...

There is no-one in the world who twizzles better than the Shibutanis, in my (not-particularly-authoritative) opinion. It was an opinion that was apparently shared by the rest of the sold-out crowd. By the time Maia and Alex hit the second set of twizzles in the twizzle sequence, the crowd was cheering. As they moved into the third, it began to turn into an all-out roar; when they did the flying change into the fourth set of twizzles, you could no longer hear the music, the crowd was that ballistic. It was total magic; I didn't even realise that I was one of the ones screaming until the sequence was over.

It was a reaction that clearly spurred Maia and Alex, and the spectacular rotational lift seemed to have more gusto than ever before - and so we roared again. And again, not long later, as they began the diagonal step sequence that would start the conclusion of their program. Not a single step was out of place, not a single blade was put wrong, as they rose in response to the music and the crowd; and it was fitting, absolutely fitting, that this final competitive outing of their definitive program had been their best performance ever.

The crowd fell once more into awed silence as the choreographed lift was completed, the song dying away towards its end, but it was once again preparation, because as soon as Maia and Alex reached the finish, the crowd was on their feet, roaring, cheering, throwing stuffed animals, sharing their delight at the absolutely flawless performance we had just been treated to.

For some people, Torvill and Dean will always be the beacon of ice dance; for others, it will be Davis and White, or Virtue and Moir. But for me, though I know so little about ice dance, I will always go back to that glorious afternoon at the TD Garden, when the final group of dancers were so good it left me reeling, and telling myself:

"I'll never see better ice dancing than that."

And though Papadakis and Cizeron won the gold, the twizzles of the silver medallists will always be my gold standard; they will always be the moment I close my eyes and see whenever I hear "Fix You", and they will certainly be a reminder of what can happen when a dance couple creates that special magic.

(I might even have to follow ice dance next season. Who would have thought?)

You can watch the Shibutanis create their magic spell here.

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