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US Ice dance siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani continue PyeongChang's legacy at 2024 Youth Winter Olympics

Feb. 1, 2024 - 17:15 By Park Ga-young
US sibling ice dancer duo Maia Shibutani (left) and Alex Hideo Shibutani hold up their bronze medals. (PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation)

US ice dance duo Alex Hideo Shibutani and Maia Shibutani, siblings who secured two bronzes at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, have returned to Gangwon Province after six years to celebrate and support the first Youth Winter Olympics in Asia.

They set foot in the region for the first time in six years, yet their connection with students remained steadfast through a mentoring program they initially joined in 2017 and 2018. The mentorship program was part of the “Thank You PyeongChang” initiative by the PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation, founded in 2019 by Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism as well as authorities from Gangwon Province.

Through the program, now called “Thank You Gangwon” to celebrate the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics, the siblings established connections with students from Jinbu Middle School, fostering friendships and cultural exchanges through video communication before they finally met in person during the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics, which began with an opening ceremony on Jan. 19.

“Gangneung Ice Arena will always be one of our favorite venues in the world. Our lives changed because of our on-ice performances here in 2018. Being back is amazing and we are so excited to support the athletes who are competing at the Youth Olympic Games,” the siblings said in an email interview.

At the 2018 Winter Olympics, the Shibutanis, also known by their social media handle, ShibSibs, clinched a bronze with a clean free dance totaling 192.59 points in the figure skating ice dance competition, making history as the first ice dancing duo of Asian descent to earn a medal at the Winter Olympics. They were also selected to represent the US in the team event, which won the bronze medal.

Seven of the nine main sporting venues in use at Gangwon 2024 are reused infrastructure from the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018.

During their visit, the Shibutanis attended the opening ceremony of the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics together and visited the venues to support the young athletes, engaging in numerous conversations with the students, discussing their career paths and providing mentorship. They spent time skating together with children, connected through the Korean Association for Children with Leukemia and Cancer.

“Connecting with the next generation through cultural exchange programs and sports diplomacy is incredibly fulfilling, and the impact of these initiatives is long-lasting for the participants and their communities,” the duo noted.

“It has been an immense privilege to spend time with the students of Jinbu Middle School and many other young South Koreans at these Youth Olympic Games. We are inspired by their kindness and positive energy and are looking forward to seeing the incredible things they will do in the future,” they said.

The two medalists, who have now made the transition to authors of illustrated books, encouraged the participants to enjoy the “amazing Youth Olympic Games experience.” “Trust your training and embrace these special moments: They are the result of your hard work, talent and skill! When you aren’t practicing or competing, do your best to take advantage of your environment. It is a wonderful opportunity to connect with other young athletes from around the world and make new friends!” they advised.

Alex Shibutani skates together with a child during a mentoring program at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation)

The two-week Winter Youth Olympics which kicked off Jan. 19 in Gangwon Province is slated to end on Thursday.

Over 1,800 athletes between the ages of 15 and 18 from nearly 80 countries are taking part in the 2024 Gangwon Youth Olympic Games, competing in seven sports, including skating, skiing and ice hockey, as well as in 15 disciplines.

The former ice dancers also said they wanted to extend their heartfelt appreciation to the many fans and volunteers who have approached them during their visit.

“Many of them watched us compete at the 2018 Olympic Games and their affection and support means so much to us. We would like to thank Korean fans for helping to create such a vibrant atmosphere for the athletes. It has been amazing to see how full the venues have been during the competitions. We look forward to seeing the popularity of ice sports continue to grow,” they added.

The PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation has carried out various activities to promote the values upheld by the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games and to contribute to the development of winter sports.

Alex Hideo Shibutani (second row, third from left) and Maia Harumi Shibutani (fourth from left) pose for photos with staff of the PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation on Jan. 25 at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation)