Small-town figure skater dreams big

Szmiett looks towards the Olympics after gaining national success

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Diane Szmiett

While most Western students returned to campus Monday after a week off of school, Diane Szmiett landed in Bulgaria.

The 18-year-old first-year science student, along with 13 other skaters from across the country, was sent by Skate Canada to compete in the International Skating Union World Junior Figure Skating Championships, which takes place from Feb. 23 to March 1.

“I’m looking for a podium finish,” Szmiett said a week before she left for the competition.

Coming from the small town of Watford, Ontario, about a half hour west of London, Szmiett has been making her mark on the national and international figure skating stage for the past few years.

In 2006, she was the Canadian Junior National Champion and has since placed in the top 10 in a number of international competitions on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. This season she placed third in France, second in South Africa and eighth at the Junior Grand Prix Final held in South Korea this past December.

Following her impressive showing at the Grand Prix finals, Szmiett returned to Canada to compete most recently in the Canadian National Championships, held mid-January in Saskatoon, where she placed fourth in senior ladies.

“Leading up to nationals I’d been skating really well ... so this year wasn’t as hard as it’s been in previous years because I had more confidence going into it,” Szmiett said.

After what Szmiett calls the best short program of her career, she found herself in the running for a podium finish, but after missing a few elements in the long program, she finished 7.17 points behind the third place finisher, Amélie Lacoste of Quebec.

“Fourth place was still a good accomplishment for me,” Szmiett said.

Scott Rachuk, who coaches Szmiett and Alison Purkiss, saw Szmiett’s fourth place finish at this year’s Canadian championships as a step in the right direction.

“After her results at Canadians ... I felt very excited for her future,” he said.

Annette Muellejans is the president of the Watford Figure Skating Club and has known Szmiett for the majority of her life. Muellejans described the positive effect Szmiett had on her home club and explained she has become somewhat of a local celebrity.

“She is an excellent role model for our younger skaters ... She has shown the other skaters that it takes more than just talent to get to the top, but that if you set goals and work hard, you can achieve them,” she said.

Szmiett is one of 53 entries at this year’s World Junior Figure Skating Championships in the ladies division. While competing against other young and talented women from around the world will prove to be tough, both Szmiett and Rachuk are confident in a positive result.

Diane Szmiett

“She is one of the best skaters at this level ... if she sticks to the plan [of being relaxed while competing] she will be very successful this week,” Rachuk explained.

Szmiett said the World Juniors would mark the end of her competitive season. However, with 2010 just around the corner, landing a spot on Canada’s Olympic team is already on her mind.

“Being fourth [at Canadians] this year kind of sets me up to maybe go to the Olympics if I skate well next year. Obviously that would be a goal,” Szmiett said.

Rachuk agreed 2010 will be a very realistic opportunity for Szmiett.

“Diane will be one of the skaters to watch who has a realistic chance of getting one of the spots,” he said, explaining a well-designed training regimen will enable Szmiett to be in top form when it comes time to qualify.

“From there it is up to the judges, and we have no control of that. If we take care of our job throughout the year, the result will take care of itself.”

Looking forward, Szmiett will be facing a demanding training schedule, but it won’t be anything new. After driving in from Watford five days a week to attend back-to-back classes from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. as a part-time student, she trains on-ice from 1 to 5 p.m. and then does off-ice training from 5 to 7 p.m.

Although Szmiett admits she sometimes feels like she’s missing out on the “university experience,” she does not mind sacrificing aspects of the university lifestyle in order to continue skating and travelling.

A Canadian junior champion, international competitor and fourth-place finisher at this year’s Canadian Championships as a senior lady, it seems Szmiett’s hard work, dedication and sacrifice is paying off.

“She really is a terrific kid and has accomplished many things already in her life,” Rachuk said.

“I can’t begin to tell you how proud we are of Diana,” Muellejans added.

Szmiett competes Friday and Saturday in the World Junior Championships.

For results, check www.isuworldjunior2009.com.

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