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Guelph's Joanne Shaw to lead Canadians at World Synchronized Skating Championships

Guelph’s Joanne Shaw will be a team leader for the Canadian contingent that is to compete in the world synchronized skating championships next week in Austria

Guelph’s Joanne Shaw will be a team leader for the Canadian contingent that is to compete in the World Synchronized Skating Championships next week in Austria.

And she should relish every minute of it as its one of her favourite activities with Skate Canada.

“I really enjoy my tech reffing and my team lead,” Shaw said during a video conference from her winter condo in Florida. “I like to be at the centre of things and maybe having a bit more control of what's going on. Not that I'm a control freak, but I like to be able to control my own destination and make sure I know what's going on. I think these are two of my favourite jobs.”

Shaw, an honourary member of the Guelph Skating Club, and Skate Canada senior director of operations Mary Ellen McDonald are the team leaders while the Les Suprêmes (CPA Saint-Léonard, Que.) and Nexxice (Burlington Skating Centre) junior teams will compete in the championships.

“I facilitate any problems,” she said of her responsibilities as a team leader. “If teams have questions about something, I'm the one that they come to and I go to the technical event coordinator.”

She’s certainly hoping this year’s events won’t be as busy as the 2020 world junior championships in Nottingham, United Kingdom.

“I was in England when the pandemic started,” she said. “Here we were in March in Nottingham and trying to figure out how we're going to get everybody home, which is part of your job.”

It was a lot of work, but things worked out.

“I work with the team managers and the team coaches very closely and normally with a team that size, the team manager is the one doing the team flights and things like that, but I'm also there to help facilitate what's going on with them. It was a little scary,” she said. “It was a good thing I had international calling on my cell phone because I was back and forth to Canada and to the travel agency probably four times every day, saying 'OK, I've got to get the doctor back home. I've got to get the physiotherapist back home. I've got to get myself back home – the referee, the technical controller and the judge. So I'm trying to get all those people onto flights and at least getting to where we want to go or have to go.

"We ended up changing flights for all of us and going from Nottingham to London, England, and then flying from England back to Toronto.”

A Wallaceburg native who relocated to Guelph just under 40 years ago, Shaw is also a Canadian dance referee and a singles referee and was the technical director at last month’s Canadian synchronized skating championships.

“I did skate,” she said of her introduction to the sport. “I wasn't a competitive, competitive skater, but I did skate. There were too many other things that I needed to do in the sports line rather than just figure skate, but I did figure skate. When I went away to school, I kind of stopped doing that. When my daughter got involved, I thought 'You know what, I really should give back to what people had done for me' and so that's when I thought 'OK, I'm going to go start officiating,' so that's what I did. So I actually really started volunteering in about 1967.”

Shaw was also one of three people, all members of the International Skating Union’s technical committee, who helped develop a judging system for synchronized skating following the figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 when gold medals were awarded to two teams in the pairs competition following alleged judge tampering.

“That year was the year I went on the international skating committee with the synchronized skating technical committee,” she said. “It was quite a busy year that year and for about four years after that trying to get the system to work the way you want it to work in trial and error and trying to get it so it was easily understood by all countries.

“You can't put in word that we as Canadians would know, but maybe somebody from a small country would have no idea really what that English word meant. They all have to speak English, but they may not all understand it completely or understand what certain words were.”

After being with the ISU committee for about eight year, Shaw, who’ll turn 80 next month, now concentrates strictly on duties with Skate Canada.

“Up until this day and I'm no longer on the committee because once you turn 70 you cannot officiate internationally any more,” she said. "That's one of their rules and it's been there for a long time. When it went in, people at 70 were not the 50-year-olds that they are today.

“Nobody's ever questioned it and I thought, hmmmm, it's time. I miss it now mind you.”

Three years ago the ISU recognized Shaw’s contributions by naming her a recipient of their Gold Award of Merit.

“I was very, very humbled and honoured to receive that,” she said. “There are 18 people who have been given that award and there are four of us from Canada that have been given this award. It's quite an honour.

“It's usually given to ISU office holders or somebody who has done a lot of work in the development of skating. It was a very big honour and I was surprised when I got the letter from the ISU saying that I was going to be nominated for this.”

It really means the world governing body noticed and appreciated the work she did.

“I suppose they had to realize what we were doing because it was so important to the ISU to get this judging system correct,” she said.

“It gives you a feeling that they actually appreciate and have recognized what you have tried to do for the sport and that for me was a very big honour. I was very shocked when I got it because I never thought about ever getting an award from the ISU. I was there to do what I could do to develop the sport. It was very proud that they gave it to me. I shouldn't say that, but I was. I was humbled and I was honoured that I would receive this award.”