Perennial runners up, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, finally overtook the defending champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and claimed the top step of the podium. The duo captivated the Saint Paul audience with a stirring program set to music by the band Coldplay. As the program built to a crescendo, the crowd erupted into raucous applause in appreciation.
“That was an absolutely incredible moment for Alex and me,” Maia Shibutani said. “The crowd was fantastic and to become national champions for the first time is incredible. We’ve been on a 12-year journey together and we are really looking forward to the future.”
The brother-and-sister team earned seven level fours for their technical elements — the only team in the competition to accomplish that feat, and finished the competition with 190.14 points overall. “This program has been very special for us,” Alex Shibutani explained. “We had this vision with this program—with the music building, we had visions of skating it like we did today. It’s true commitment to what we want to accomplish on the ice. Really we’ve stopped concerning ourselves with the things we can’t control. Our goal every time we go out there is really to create a moment.”
Chock and Bates performed well in their Rachmaninoff program, but it was somewhat sterile at times. With a level two on the combination spin and a level three on the circular steps, the defending champs had to settle for silver this time. “It felt great out there today, it really did,” Chock said. “This is the best performance we’ve put out all season. We had a little mishap on the spin I guess, we got a little lower [level] than we expected. Other than that, it felt great to skate and we were just enjoying every second of it.” Chock and Bates earned 186.93 points.
The 2015 Grand Prix Final silver medalists were not discouraged by the result, however, and see this as just another step in their season’s development. “I don’t think that there is anything to recover from. We’re really proud of how we skated today,” Chock explained. “This has been the best by far that we have competed this season. We definitely have room to improve, and we definitely will improve in going to Worlds.”
“We didn’t just come second to a team that is not on the world stage,” Bates added. “They are world medalists. Looking back a month ago (at the Grand Prix Final), it was neck-and-neck there, and I think that we expected this to be a battle and that’s what it was. It won’t be the last time we see each other, and I think that this will be good for us to fuel us.”
Winning the bronze medals for the third time in four years was Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue with 178.81 points. Skating to “Adagio for Tron,” Donohue played the role of a man who becomes fascinated with his muse, Hubbell’s angel of death. The duo portrayed the parts with such conviction that Donohue stayed in character for several moments after the program had ended. As if on cue, Hubbell snapped her partner back to reality with a touch of her hand.
“I think that we feel the most confident that we have ever felt with our own skating,” Hubbell said after the event. “We are able to control our performance every time, and our consistency is improving which is a great feeling. I feel like we are in the right place to chase our dreams. Today, in a way, feels kind of the same because we have gotten bronze a few times now. It’s such an extremely difficult event, and seeing one after the other have that reaction when the finish, you know that they have skated their best. We tried to use that energy in our own performance, we skated our best, and we’re proud of what we did.”
Donohue added: “I’ve struggled a bit on my own for a bit with my feeling of my skating and accomplishment,” Donohue explained. “When (Hubbell) was injured, I put a lot of pressure on myself to hold the team together, and a lot of doubt came out of that. I think that biggest thing that hit me at the end was the realization of all of the hard work that we had put in just with this move (to Montreal), and the feeling of complete control that I had over every moment in the program.”
Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus finished in fourth place, and were ecstatic to take the big leap up from fifth place a year ago. The pewter medalists skated to a Beethoven medley, telling the story of the classical musicians life through dance. Despite a level two on the opening diagonal step sequence, Cannuscio and McManus earned 160.46 points overall — a new personal best for the team.
“So validated is how we feel about it. I don’t think that it’s real yet,” McManus said. “I think that we’re so used to it being so close yet so far away. It’s feels like we just jumped over an ocean to get there. It’s just surreal. We’ve just been in Delaware trucking along, and I think that works out better for us because we just focus on ourselves and our own improvement. Today is a testament to that kind of work that we have been putting in, and we couldn’t be happier with how things turned out.”
Cannuscio added: “I don’t think that we ever settled year after year. We try to make every competition better than the last, and that is what we’ve done this season. This year, our choreography was a collaborative effort with our coach, and I think that really helped us grow and get into the choreography even more.”
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean Luc Baker, fourth a year ago, finished in fifth place with 158.86 points.
2016 U.S. CHAMPIONSHIPS