LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The Shib Sibs say they're right on track for the Pyeongchang Olympics. First, a stop in Japan for a teaser showdown with the world's best.
American ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani skated into next month's Grand Prix Final with ease Sunday, winning Skate America for their second victory in the series with a program that could earn them gold in South Korea.
The two-time U.S. champions were a hit with fans and judges all weekend, twizzling and spinning their way to wins in the short and free dance programs. The siblings won the free skate Sunday with 115.07 points and finished at 194.25 overall. They also won the Grand Prix event in Russia this year.
"This was the week that we wanted to have at this particular point in the season," 26-year-old Alex Shibutani said.
The Shibutanis took bronze at last season's Final, and they'll try to do better against a strong field in Japan. Their top competition includes Vancouver winners and Sochi silver medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada, and France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron — each of those duos also won two Grand Prix stops.
Two other American couples, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue, have qualified.
The Shibutanis are still looking for ways to sharpen their routine ahead of Pyeongchang.
"We know that this program still has room to grow," 23-year-old Maia Shibutani said.
Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte also qualified for the Final with a score of 181.63. The duo was upset with the judges' scores on the short program Saturday and then struggled in the free dance, with Cappellini's skate blade getting caught on Lanotte's pants during a lift. Lanotte said he let the short-program scores throw him off during the free dance.
Russia's Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov were third at 176.53. Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were fourth at 166.54, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S. next at 163.53. The other American pair, Rachel and Michael Parsons, was ninth out of nine teams.
Japan's Satoko Miyahara won the ladies competition, finally recapturing her top form following a lingering hip injury to cement herself as an Olympic favorite.
Miyahara won the free skate with a score of 143.31, edging Japan's Kaori Sakamoto with a few impressive combinations, including a triple lutz-double toe loop-double loop.
A three-time national champion, Miyahara skipped Four Continents and worlds this year because of her hip and finished fifth at the Grand Prix event in Japan. She said she's feeling better daily, and it showed in her programs this weekend.
Sakamoto had a score of 210.59, scoring especially well on her jumps, including a double axel-triple toe loop-double toe loop combination in the free skate.
"This is a big step," Sakamoto said through a translator.
Bradie Tennell emerged as a potential U.S. champion at her Grand Prix debut. The 19-year-old finished third at 204.10 with a season-best 137.09 in the free skate.
The 2015 junior national champion shot her hands in the air when she finished her program, then smiled and covered her face.
"It was kind of just exactly what I'd been practicing," Tennell said. "I was just really happy I was able to put it out there and feel like I did my job."
Reigning Skate America champ Ashley Wagner halted her free skate and withdrew because of an infection on her right ankle. The 26-year-old American didn't appear to be injured, but stopped during a spin section. She said after she was in "nauseating" pain.
"It's not a quick-fix kind of a situation," Wagner said while choking up. "My main goal is to be national champion and to go to the Olympics, and that's something that I absolutely can do with the right amount of training."
U.S. skater Karen Chen finished eighth after a season-best score in the free skate. She had to ice her right knee Saturday after a fall in the short program and said she powered through a few big bruises to skate Sunday.
Russia's Polina Tsurksaya and Serafima Sakhanovich were fourth and fifth, respectively, and Canada's Gabrielle Daleman finished sixth. Daleman was third after the short program and was disgruntled by her scores in the free skate.