Being world-class sometimes runs in the family.
Superstar siblings are taking over Team USA — and these duos insist that this connection gives them an edge as they head to the Winter Olympics, which kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Wednesday.
Whether they practice brutal honesty or create a secret language, these athletes have forged connections you can only get from growing up together.
“When you get to this level, you go through a lot of ups and downs,” says US Olympic women’s cross-country skier Sadie Bjornsen, 28, whose younger brother Erik is on the men’s cross-country ski team. “Your brother or sister will be the support you need to get there.”
Here’s a look at the siblings competing in this year’s games and the methods they’ll rely on as they fight for gold.
As kids growing up in Greenwich, Conn., skating was supposed to be Maia Shibutani’s thing. Her older brother, Alex, had aspirations of playing in the NBA — and even attended basketball camp in the summer.
But each day after his mom picked him up from camp, they would head to the rink to watch his 4-year-old sister practice. Alex, then 7, initially wasn’t too keen on his sibling’s budding hobby.
“At first, I would go to the arcade … so I could play [table] hockey,” he says. “Eventually, I got bored and saw that Maia was having a lot of fun on the ice. I decided to give it a try and the rest is history.”
Nearly 20 years later — with a ninth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Olympics under their belts — the “Shib Sibs” Maia, 23, and Alex, 26, are favored to medal as one of Team USA’s three ice-dance pairs.
Though they’re able to maintain perfectly synchronized smiles while executing complicated side-by-side step sequences, their dad, Chris Shibutani, says that they can occasionally butt heads since they’re both “very strongly opinionated people.”
“Maia is very much an organizer and a planner, and she can understand how to get things done from an execution standpoint. Alex is the creative side, so he envisions all these crazy ideas,” he tells The Post. “It’s like she’s the producer and he’s the director.”
Ultimately, they’re able to set their differences aside in order to be the best. “They’ve always been on the same page as far as what the goals are, especially when we made the move to Michigan eight years ago and [ice dancing] became a primary occupation … that’s when the focus really came in,” says Chris.
“Even if there are disagreements, there’s an underlying thread of understanding why,” he says. “It’s never personal.”
And no matter the outcome, “we know that even when we are done competing, we will still be family,” says Maia. “That bond sets us apart from our competitors.”
The Olympics have become a family tradition for Sadie and Erik Bjornsen, who are headed to their second consecutive Winter Games in cross-country skiing after a lifetime of racing alongside each other.
Growing up in Winthrop, Wash., “we probably first put skis on as soon as we could walk,” says Erik, 26.
“We didn’t even know what competition was at that age, it was just this family thing that allowed us to spend time together,” adds Sadie, 28. “That’s sort of how we grew up and grew to love the sport.”
In addition to about 30 hours of weekly training, they’ve spent countless hours together off the slopes: After they left the family home, they were roommates while studying at Alaska Pacific University.
“Having someone else in the house is supermotivating — otherwise it’s easy to hit the snooze button,” Erik says.
‘You can be hard on your teammates, but it’s also good to have someone who can be brutally honest with you.’
Sadie, who admits to being “more type-A,” says Erik is the “chiller” one in their family, and he’s often the only one who can calm her down in stressful moments.
The trait they do share is undoubtedly their competitive spirit, on and off the trails. Last year they both got engaged to French natives: “Now we’re competing to see who can learn French first,” Sadie says with a laugh.
They say that their ability to be real with each other makes them better competitors. “You can be hard on your teammates, but it’s also good to have someone who can be brutally honest with you,” says Erik. And that honesty is also often motivational.
“It’s so hard to see strength in yourself,” Sadie says. “But that’s what makes the best athletes — they’re the ones who can recognize their own strength. So when you have someone who can see that, it makes it so much easier to believe in yourself.”
When Matt and Becca Hamilton hit the ice to compete in curling mixed doubles, don’t expect them to snap at one another.
“For siblings, they get along really well,” says their coach, Jake Higgs. He’s worked with the Wisconsin-based duo for the past few years, and says he’s never seen them hold a grudge — an issue that’s all too common among other curling duos, since the practice of sweeping and throwing the “stone” requires so much precision and coordination.
If one of them makes a mistake or thinks the other is at fault, they move past it. “They have a code word, and they haven’t even told me what it is,” says Higgs. “When they say it, it means, ‘Drop everything and move on.’ Drop whatever the drama is.”
Higgs says that the siblings’ personalities help them find balance.
“[At age 28,] Matt’s very fun-loving. It’s hard to be mad at him for too long. [At 27,] Becca’s a little more stubborn — she’s always got her game face on, whereas Matt is always joking around,” says Higgs.
This is the first year mixed doubles is an Olympic sport, and the duo only officially started competing as a team in 2016.
“The first year, we did not do well just because we didn’t know how to control each other,” Becca told the Wisconsin State Journal, and Matt admitted that he can be “a little bit blunt” with his sister. But they seem to have worked out the kinks: At the Olympic Trials in January, Becca told NBC Sports, “We’re finally getting in a groove.”
It’s a good thing they decided to get together.
“[Becca] is an extremely strong sweeper,” says Nelson. “The advantage they have is that she’ll dominate every other female. On a lot of other teams, the man has to sweep his own stone [when he throws it], whereas she can sweep for Matt.”
Hockey forwards Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando grew up chasing after their four older brothers on the frozen pond behind their house in Grand Forks, ND.
“I had to keep them busy!” says mom Linda Lamoureux, who encouraged her brood to spend their free time skating. “I definitely think it helped them a lot. They watched and mimicked their brothers — they wanted to keep up.”
Once the twins, now 28, started playing competitively, she taught them to motivate each other.
“They always wanted to push one another to be their best,” says Linda. “It was always a healthy competition.”
‘They always wanted to push one another to be their best. It was always a healthy competition.’
After more than 20 years of passes and blocks (and a silver medal at the Sochi games), the sisters can pretty much read each other’s minds — on the ice and off.
“They don’t even have to speak words — they just know what the other is thinking. They know where the other will go. They don’t have to say anything, they just react,” says Linda.
“They don’t live together, but they’ll train together, and they’ll come in the same workout clothes,” she says. “They’ll be like, ‘Gosh!’”
The twins show their devotion to the game in different ways.
“Jocelyn is very articulate,” says Linda. “Monique, her determination is powerful, but she can do it in a quiet way.”
It makes them a formidable duo — even when they’re dealing with a tough loss. When the USA team lost the gold medal in unprecedented overtime in Sochi, the girls leaned on one another to move past it and support their teammates. “It wasn’t easy,” says Linda. “You just have to pick yourself up and move forward.”
Their close relationship makes mom proud. “It’s just been really fun to raise them,” says Linda. “I never imagined they’d be Olympians.”