Interview With Shawn Sawyer

Photograph of Canadian figure skater and Olympian Shawn Sawyer

Every so often a skater comes along that is simply too good for anything competitive figure skating can offer. Their skating is simply bigger than any confines you can put on it. Early in his eligible career, Shawn Sawyer won the Canadian Novice and Junior title. He went on to win 4 medals on the Senior level at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships from 2005 to 2011 and represent Canada at the World Junior Championships, Junior and Senior Grand Prix events, the Four Continents Championships, World Championships and Winter Olympic Games. Not bad for a skater from one province over (Shawn is originally from New Brunswick and now lives in Quebec)! Although his competitive career was nothing short of very impressive, it only took watching one of his programs (even early in his career) to know that Shawn had something extremely special that couldn't be judged by 6.0's, GOE's or PCS scores. His edge control, beautiful spins, flexibility, creativity, interpretation of music and dramatic flair on the ice all were things that really made him stand out as a skater that had so much more to offer than any quad or list of triple/triple combinations and footwork sequences many other skaters would reel off. Turning professional after his silver medal win at the Canadian National Championships in 2011, Shawn has shared his gift with a whole new generation of skaters through his work as a choreographer. He has toured all over North America as one of the biggest audience favourites with Stars On Ice and performed as a professional skater in countless shows including Holiday Festival On Ice and Celebration On Ice, dazzling fans with his backflip, signature spirals, Biellmann spin, Cantilever, triple jumps and edgy and innovative choreography. One thing about Shawn's skating that resonates with me personally is that he's exactly the kind of skater I would have loved to have been (and aspired to be). To me, things like hydroblading, spirals, flexibility, moves in the field, interpreting music and finding unique and interesting variations and ways of doing things were more interesting and exciting than any jump. It was my absolute pleasure to have chance to interview Shawn and ask him about his connection with Toller Cranston, his eligible career, how he comes up with his programs, his future and much, much more:

Q: The first time I saw you skate was on Toller Cranston's special in the 90's. You were only young but it was very apparent that you had something VERY special. How did your skating attract Toller's attention and what has your friendship been like over the years?

A: As Toller said, he discovered me but as a young skater I had no clue who he was so in a way we discovered each other! We did not spend much time together prior, during and after the show but we connected on such a level that whether we spend time together or not it would not change our strange relationship. I say strange because after the show everyone pointed out our resemblance and decided he was my real father. I was OK with that! I have learned a lot from the few words that he carefully mentioned to me... but those are secret!

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time?

A: My three favourite skaters of all time are of course Toller Cranston, Kurt Browning and Michelle Kwan. I don't think I need to explain that answer!

Q: You have won the Canadian Novice and Junior men's titles and four Senior medals at the Canadian National Championships from 2005 to 2011. What do you consider your proudest moments in your competitive career?

A: My proudest moments in competition as a 4 time Senior National Medallist are my qualification to the Olympic Games and my farewell season of 2011 with my own crazy creation of the "Alice In Wonderland"/Mad Hatter long program. I was not much of an exciting competitor. I always did my job, looked focused and prepared but inside I just wanted to perform on a professional level. My Mad Hatter program was the perfect balance that I needed to meet my own criteria and those of the judging system.

Q: I know you are very busy with coaching, choreography and performing and I can't imagine you have a ton of free time! What do you most enjoy doing most when you have a little time to yourself? 

A: In my spare time, what I most enjoy is walking my Chinese crested dog and getting home to a nice glass of red wine.

Photograph of Canadian figure skater and Olympian Shawn Sawyer

Q: Between your Cantilever, backflip, spins and spirals, you're one of the most exciting skaters to watch! Are all of the flexible "tricks" like the backflip and Cantilever that you use to highlight your programs as scary as they look?

A: I include a lot of difficulty and risk to my performances with my many unique tricks. Yes, they are very hard and I do need to keep in perfect shape to perform them to my standards. I am very flexible but to this day I still stretch religiously every day. The backflip is SO much fun and I love the international response that i get from it. The Cantilever will be the number one reason if you see me in a wheelchair before my 30's. I like to innovate, transform and customize skating moves. Spins, jumps and field moves are a perfect way to showcase every skaters unique way of performing them. I just decided to bring them to a high risk level.

Q: Where is the most interesting place in the world you have visited and what is one place you haven't that you'd love to go?

A: The most interesting place I have visited is Puerto Rico. It was SO nice - warm and perfect! I really want to visit Australia, not only for the country but mostly for the never ending plane ride. I love flying!

Photograph of Canadian figure skater and Olympian Shawn Sawyer

Q: For starters, I just LOVE your skating and I adore your "Alegria" program... as well as the "Carmina Burana" butterfly program and the White Stripes programs you skated at this year's Stars On Ice here in Halifax. I was in the front row here my mother and we both just loved both program! Where do you get your ideas for your programs, how do you put together choreography and what are some of your craziest program ideas that you haven't skated to just yet?

A: When it comes to my concepts for my programs, it is very easy. I get ideas all the time, all day long. I let them flourish in my head and decide to try it or discard it. For every program you see me do, there are about ten programs that are discarded. I do take a monstrous amount of time preparing for them, but once I lay it down on the ice I feel confident and ready to show my new baby! I love to come up with new stuff all the time and skating allows me to create more and more ways to reinvent myself and my skating.

Photograph of Canadian figure skater and Olympian Shawn Sawyer

Q: Who are your three favourite singers and why?

A: My top three favourite singers are... number one... Amy Winehouse. Love every single note that came out of her fragile frame. Second, Lady Gaga, because like me she is nuts! Thirdly, Marilyn Manson... Shocking, extravagant and questionable.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: One thing people don't know about me is that I quit skating five minutes before each performance! I get really really, really stressed and I just want to kick my skates off and drive back home as soon as possible... but once I am on the ice I am the happiest person in the world!

Photograph of Canadian figure skater and Olympian Shawn Sawyer

Q: What are your plans for the upcoming year? Will we will see you back in Stars On Ice and other shows?

A: My plan for the upcoming season is to perform as much as possible! I hope to create new concepts and enjoy the time with my dog and my red wine!

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