Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Brother-and-sister ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani are among Team USA's most promising contenders for a medal at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. They've spent the four years since Sochi preparing for Pyeongchang.
"Since our first Olympics in 2014, it's been all about building ourselves to improve," Maia Shibutani, 23, told UPI in an interview Wednesday. "Over the past three years, we have proven ourselves and put ourselves in a really great position heading into February."
The team placed ninth at the Sochi Olympics. This year, they took gold at the Rostelecom Cup and Skate America and came in third at the Grand Prix Finals in Nagoya, Japan.
Alex Shibutani, 26, said the siblings have the final say on creative decisions for their programs and their free dance -- set to Coldplay's "Paradise" -- is a creative performance close to both of them.
"It's our program," he said. "No one's ever done it before. That gives us a lot of confidence."
Their journey to Pyeongchang has been about finding a creative identity together, part of their sibling dynamic.
"For us, it's been about finding our identity as a team," Maia said. "Being more a part of our creative process has allowed us to create programs that are very strong and programs that we can be confident in."
The siblings take refuge from the stress of Olympic training by playing with their dogs, Lily and Po, 7-year-old Maltese terriers, who have their own Instagram account with over 2,000 followers.
The skaters are working with Milk-Bone's "Dogs Inspire More" campaign to highlight the supporting role dogs play for Team USA athletes. In their video for the campaign, the siblings try to teach the dogs how to "twizzle," an essential ice dance move.
Unfortunately, Lily and Po can't travel with the skaters to competition. But Alex and Maia frequently Facetime with their grandmother, who always puts the dogs on the phone.
"You always have those days where things are a little bit tougher," Alex said of the training process. The dogs "make us happy."
The Shibutanis will be competing at the Olympic Games starting Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.