Pair skaters place nationally

Published 6:41 pm Monday, January 5, 2009

A pair skating duo with Shelby County ties took another step towards one day reaching the Olympics with a fantastic first-year showing at the Junior Nationals.

Pelham resident Preston Culpepper, 14, and his 9-year-old partner Carolyn Diehl, of Helena, placed eighth out of 19 teams at the competition, held in Lake Placid, N.Y. That was good enough for a Top 8 finish and some well-deserved recognition.

Coach Danny Tate said the duo worked hard to make it happen.

“For their very first year out there, I thought that was phenomenal,” he said. “I thought they did a beautiful job. They were very competitive with the kids there.”

Junior Nationals were during the second week of December. After going through the experience, Diehl and Culpepper said they had a great time for different reasons.

Culpepper said he liked everything about Junior Nationals, but most especially the exposure he got to a bigger world of skating.

“I liked the excitement of hanging out at the rink and competing, meeting new people,” he said.

For Diehl, just seeing a New York winter was excitement enough.

“I enjoyed seeing that much snow up there. It was probably about 12 inches of snow,” she said.

They both share a love of competition, however. Diehl said their showing at Junior Nationals wasn’t their best, but she felt they did well for their first time.

Next, the two will face a new challenge: moving up to a more competitive level. The two have been at the juvenile level and are seriously considering moving up to the intermediate level of competition.

“Right now, they’re just training and working on their skills and getting ready to move up to the next level,” Tate said.

Diehl and Culpepper will likely see action again this spring at a Nashville competition. However, the duo will long remember the experience of Junior Nationals.

“They would have loved to have been higher, but with their inexperience, they had a couple of mistakes. If they had not had those mistakes, they would have been Top three,” Tate said. “I think they know that now, and it makes them hungrier.”

He said the Junior Nationals experience can be a great springboard to more prestigious competitions and even to Olympic glory.

“I think that Junior Nationals in general was such a great experience because future Olympians will be coming from this competition,” he said. “It could easily be them if they work hard and dedicate themselves to the sport.”