To audible audience joy, siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani skated to second place in the short dance at the first half of the 2018 Winter Olympics‘ figure skating team event on Sunday morning. But they left the rink a little disappointed with their scores, they told reporters.
Speaking to PEOPLE minutes after leaving the ice, Alex, 26, reflected on the craziness of competing on an Olympic staged, watched by the world.
“We just saw Hoda and Al from the Today show sitting in the crowd and we’re like, ‘Oh this is cool, like they’re not at every competition we do,’ ” he says. “We saw Michelle Kwan sitting in the stands with her mom.”
“We see faces in the crowd that we recognize and that’s special,” Alex tells PEOPLE. “I think a lot of athletes, well I can’t speak for everyone, but some people are really in the zone and we know how to be in the zone while also embracing the moment and looking around us and having these memories that we’ll have for the rest of our lives. … It’s just a special feeling and to be out there the two of us, that’s always special wherever we are.”
Alex and younger sister Maia, 23, dominated nearly all of their competitors at the short dance portion of the team event in Gangneung, South Korea, on Friday morning (which was aired live in primetime in the U.S., on NBC).
Performing seventh out of 10, their total score of 75.46 shot them more than 10 points ahead of second place at the time they skated, and the crowd had clearly been won over by the end. Then Italy, Canada, and the Olympic athletes from Russia, competing in the eighth, ninth and 10th slots, also made a strong showing — but the “Shib sibs” held on, ultimately coming in behind only Canadians Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue.
“Yeah, I thought we brought it,” Alex told reporters after skating.
Maia echoed that, saying:
“I mean the audience, you guys can hear it, they’re amazing. The energy is unlike any other event we’ve bene in. So I feel like Alex and I really just took the time to enjoy the moment and I’m really proud of the skating we showed today.”
It was good enough to keep Team USA in the top five, meaning they will likely qualify for the second half of the event when the men, women, pairs and ice dancers from the top five countries so far will all perform their free skate or dance.
Still, despite that success, Alex said they were “a little surprised by the score, to be honest.”
He explained: “We’ve been accustomed to receiving stronger scores with skates that maybe weren’t even as strong as today’s, so we’ll have to go back and see what the panel saw and how they determined our scores.”
“So that’s a little bit disappointing — but overall we’re just so psyched with our skate, and that’s what we came here to do and looking forward to the rest of the competition,” Alex said.
The figure skating team event continues Friday morning with ladies singles, including a short program from American teen Bradie Tennell, who has shot from relative obscurity to Olympian in a matter of months.
The Shib Sibs are back!
Brother and sister Alex and Maia Shibutani were breakout stars of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Now, they’re eager to snag a top spot at the PyeongChang Games this month.
“We feel really good and excited heading into our second Olympic games,” Maia, 23, tells PEOPLE. “We learned so much from our first experience in Sochi. It inspired us a lot, but since then our career has really taken off.”
The sibling duo finished ninth in Sochi, but Alex, 26, says he and his sister left the Games more focused than ever.
“We came away incredibly motivated,” Maia tells PEOPLE. “We knew that our goals and our sights were set on 2018 and that gave us four years to develop our craft and really grow as people.”
She adds: “We focused on a lot of the work on the ice, but then we also just took our skating to a whole other level by reaching outside of our lane and really collaborating with incredible people.”
In 2018, along with performing Mambo, cha-cha and Zumba numbers, the pair will do a free dance to Coldplay’s “Paradise” — a nod to their headline-making number to the group’s hit track “Fix You” performed last year at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
“That was at a moment in our career when we really needed to find ourselves,” Alex said of the win. “It’s nice to be back to Coldplay, but we’re doing it in a completely different way.”
The duo has been performing together for more than a decade, and Alex says that what makes the two special is their relationship both on and off the ice.
“We often get asked is it harder to be a brother and sister in ice dance and there are always challenges but I think that what sets us apart makes us unique,” he tells PEOPLE.
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“Maia and I have always had a really great relationship,” he also says. “I remember being really excited to have a younger sister because I think I knew that I would have a friend. And we’ve been friends ever since.”
“We’re a really balanced team in that respect. I understand the things that Maia does really well and she understands the things that I do well and so being able to combine those things makes us a really formidable team and I think that gives us an edge over the competition.”
REPORTING by ADAM CARLSON