Shibutanis open slim lead in junior dance

Tibbetts, Brubaker place a close second

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are ready to show off a lighter side of their personalities.
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are ready to show off a lighter side of their personalities. (Michelle Harvath)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/20/2010) - Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani love the vibe in Spokane, where they first competed in 2007.

"So many fans watching compulsories just make it a different environment," Alex, 18, said. "Our first nationals was in Spokane, and we won novice, so there's a lot of nice memories and sentiment here."

The siblings, who recently placed third at the Junior Grand Prix Final, opened a 1.96-point lead after a solid if conservative Argentine Tango.

"They started out with lots of flow, and then they got a little cautious," Marina Zoueva, who coaches the siblings with Igor Shpilband in Canton, Mich., said.

Second in juniors last season, the Shibutanis are heavy favorites for gold this week, but aren't letting the pressure get to them.

"Our goal is to skate strong programs and hopefully work toward junior worlds," Alex said. "We can't let the pressure take over. At the end of the day, it's only the two of you out there."

Rachel Tibbetts and Collin Brubakerof Colorado Springs sit second with 33.76 points.

"It went really well; we felt pretty grounded and solid," Tibbetts, 19, said.

"Anyone who has followed us knows that we've had competitions where we've made one big mistake," Brubaker, who turns 21 on January 31st, said. "We've tried to learn from that, and we feel stronger mentally and physically for this competition."

The Argentine Tango, first skated in London in 1934, is a sinuous dance that demands both precision and elegance.

"There needs to be a combination of very smooth, yet a lot of crisp, movements and one steps," Karen Ludington, who coaches Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello at the University of Delaware, said.

Her pupils earned 30.94 points and sit third going into the free dance.

"That was definitely one of our better run-throughs," Cannuscio, 19, said. "This was the first time we competed this dance."

The team said competing at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December (they placed sixth) gave them a jolt of confidence.

"It really did push us to give that 120 per cent," Lorello, 19, said.

Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue are fourth with 30.81.

Just 2.23 points separate the third through eighth-place teams.