Before the PyeongChang Olympics started, U.S. ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani spent six months mentoring students at Jinbu Middle School in South Korea as part of a program through the United States Olympic Committee and the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG).
After months of video chats and Olympic lesson plans, the students finally got to meet the Shibutanis, with four Olympic bronze medals between the two of them. The Shib Sibs gave their student mentees one last session, but this time, it was face-to-face. There was also a certificate ceremony, a gift exchange and a photoshoot.
“Our Olympic experience on and off the ice has been incredible,” Maia said. “For the past six months, we have built a bond with the students that was only made possible because of the Olympic Games. Today there were happy tears, lots of hugs, and laughter. Spending time with the students was amazing, and we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to represent Team USA.”
The program, called “Thank You, PyeongChang,” was developed in 2015 to teach local children more about the Olympic Games that was coming to their country. Once a month, the Shibutanis would video chat with the students to talk about their Olympic experiences. Olympic-caliber lessons were planned, teaching students about a range of topics from Olympic values to health and nutrition. The program went both ways with the students telling the Shib Sibs all about PyeongChang and South Korean culture. The students were even there for the free dance to watch their mentors win Olympic bronze.
Several other U.S. Olympians participated in the program as well, including back-to-back ski halfpipe gold medalist David Wise and figure skater Mirai Nagasu.
The Shibutani siblings leave PyeongChang with two bronze medals. They represented the U.S. in the team event for both the short dance and free dance to take home their first bronze and then followed it up the next week with another podium finish in ice dance.