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Interview With Juanita-Anne Yorke

Winning three back to back South African titles from 1990 to 1992 might appear to be the highlight of Juanita-Anne Yorke's skating career on paper but her accomplishments in life go far, far beyond that. Although she missed the 1992 Olympics in Albertville as a result of a boycott on South African athletes in international competition, Juanita-Anne was part of the first contingent from her country to skate at the World Championships in twenty three years that year. Her subsequent life in law enforcement is every bit as fascinating. As much as we hear of 'bad cops' in the news, here's a great one who is committed to making a difference in the world. I think you'll really enjoy this interview!:

Q: Family plays a huge role in the support of any athlete. Was this the case for you as well?

A: Firstly, let me say thank you for interviewing me. It has been a long time since my last interview as I have been out of the sport for a while. I was going to continue to coach but decided to rather dedicate my life to all South Africans in the fight against Crime. My mother was always supporting me as was my father right throughout my skating career. I have three sisters as well and they too gave up long hours so that I could further my career in Figure Skating. God bless my family.

Q: What first brought you to the sport and got you hooked?

A: What first got me hooked... My cousin Melanie came home one day with a new pair of ice skates and being the Curious George that I was having my roller skates on asked my cousin "And what are those?" After she explained, we all decided to go ice skating as it was a very hot day in South Africa. I remember this clearly because it was too hot to even roller skate. So that Saturday morning, we went skating and I have never actually left the ice since. It was such a beautiful feeling to skate on that ice that day that I could not resist but begged and pleaded with my father Vincent Risden Yorke who was Managing Director of Renown Meats at the time to let me take up the sport. Imagine an eight year old negotiating a sport with her dad who is a director of a company! The ice gave me absolute freedom to show and express myself as a hyperactive child and yes, I am still an ADHD adult and have loads of energy at age forty two!

Q:After a twenty three year boycott as a result of the apartheid in South Africa, entries were initially slated from South Africa for the 1992 Albertville Games. Winning that year's National Championships at age nineteen, you were one of four figure skaters that were supposed to sent from your country to compete. What can you share about the Olympic experience that never happened?

A: Unfortunately, we never made the Olympics which Greatly saddened me due to the fact the Sport Moratorium that had not yet been lifted. I must Admit when I was handed my Protea Colours Blazer that replaced the Springbok Blazer, I was extremely proud and I know my Dad would of been as well but he had unfortunately passed away from a heart attack in 1990. I am very happy that my mother, Joyce Elizabeth Yorke, lived to see it though. She passed away in 1997 from cancer. I framed the blazer now and It will hopefully one day find its way to the Hall Of Fame.

Q: Although you didn't make it to Albertville, you were indeed part of the first South African contingent since 1968 at the World Championships that year in Oakland, 
finishing thirty ninth. Having trained in Colorado as a young skater, was the experience of competing at a World Championships in America particularly special for you?

A: In 1992, the World Figure Skating Championships were held in Oakland. I realized what Carlo and Christa Fassi had meant about training hard for eight hours a day! "Live, sleep, eat and breathe figure skating" would of been the more appropriate advice. To skate at world level, you really must have guts, determination, a solid eating plan, a lot of patience and nerves of STEEL! I remember opening the Worlds and it was amazing. That day was the first time in my whole skating career where I can truly say I actually felt nervous. There I was all of nineteen and I was living my dream, entertaining an audience of most probably like eight thousand people. The Colosseum was huge and I felt like a Gladiator that day as if the whole of South Africa depended on me. I went out and skated the best that I could for my country and I felt proudly South African. So maybe I was not as great as all the other skaters but I still did my best with the training that I had been provided, and you cannot do better than your best! The people were amazing and the team that was at Worlds were the cream of the crop of South Africa. I know I thanked the Worlds organizers but WOW... they really were the greatest when it comes to event planning. Truly! I would also like to thank America for having me. They have a beautiful country and I would visit again any day! Going back to Colorado Broadmoor ice arena was absolutely fantastic, and to think that I - me - Juanita-Anne Yorke - actually stayed at Beatty Hall where Ice Castles was filmed? That was awesome. I felt like a princess.

Q: What can you share about your decision to retire from the sport?

A: Why I retired from the sport? First off, a figure skater never truly retires. I still go and ice skate at the rink at Forrest Hill in Centurion as I have moved to the capital city of Pretoria in South Africa. The real reason why I gave up the sport was to care for my sick mother who was diagnosed with cancer just after we got back from the World Figure Skating Championships in 1992. That is why I never came back for a rematch. I also do shift work now at Crime Stop South Africa so it is very difficult to actually set up a coaching system where I could dedicate the necessary hours to my skaters. I am a perfectionist by nature and I believe in structure and order. If I could, I would build my own ice rink in my back yard. I truly miss the ice. It's a part of me that will never ever go away. I am a figure skater forever in my heart. If life had given me the opportunity then, I would have most probably made it to the 1998 Winter Olympics but my book of life was not written that way. We never question God; we just accept the book the way that it is written! It was a very easy decision to make because my family comes first always. To all my fans, sorry if I let you down. I'm sure you understand the circumstances that were consequentially great for a nineteen year old to make life changing decisions and in actual fact there was no choice in the matter.

Q: You've served as an officer with the South African Police Service and as you mentioned earlier, you now work with Crime Stop South Africa. What drew you to law enforcement and what have been the most rewarding and (alternatively) disheartening parts of the jobs?

A: In 2001, I joined the South African Police Services and I became a reservist. At the time, I had also joined up for Shaolin Kung fu to keep my mind and body fit. I was unfortunately a victim of crime where they had broken into my house and cleared me out literally. When the policeman arrived, we had a chat and I will never forget his words: "Why don't you join as a reservist and help us fight crime!" I was still a spoiled brat I think at that stage so I was actually very upset because they had stolen my Mom's bangles. I said "take anything like my TV, but leave my family heirlooms out of the picture." I asked the policeman how to join and to make that difference and he said I ought to go down to my nearest police station and apply... so I did! I joined on my birthday, the eighth of April 2001, and loved the work so much that I went permanent on the twenty third of December, 2002. I was part of the fifth of January intake of 2003 and I had an absolute blast training for three months at Pretoria West SAPS College. I felt like I was training for skating every day. Very structured and very disciplined just like my sport! I also like to help my members in the community so I am making a difference every day in a lot of peoples lives. I can truly thank my mother and father for bringing me up in the correct way so maybe one day I can save even more lives. Being a policewoman is a true calling. You have to be dedicated and love your job or don't do it! It's that simple. I believe in serving and protecting so that the children and all South African citizens have a safe environment to live in and a better and brighter future.

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

A: First off, Kristi Yamaguchi. Having skated with Kristi at Worlds and sharing the ice with her I can truly say she is my idol. If I were to have a mentor it would be her. She is so graceful and an absolute beautiful person. Even though we were competing against each other she would find time to help me. Thanks Kristi for the help then - I will never forget it! Secondly, Dorothy Hamill. In South Africa we used to watch the NutraSweet World Professional Figure Skating Championships and Dorothy was always so graceful and she made skating look easy. Her technical side was also quite great to watch and I learned a great deal off ice just watching the show over and over and over again. I would go try it on the ice and my coach Karen Huth would ask me what in the world was I trying to do that day the we would work on the move. Thirdly, Scott Hamilton. I was personally trained by Scott Hamilton when he came to Sun City, South Africa years ago. I don't even think he will remember it but anyway! He has always been my mentor on the technical side. He taught me how to do the real fast spins that he is famous for and thanks for that, Scott. When I was at Worlds, it was great seeing him again. Last but not least my two favourite ice dancers of all time are Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. It was great to meet Christopher at the World Championships in 1992. To finally see the 'Perfect Six' live. wow! WOW... now that's skating! Amen!

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

A: (laughing) I drive a motor bike and I am sure if my mother was still alive she would argue that It's a coffin on wheels and I should buy a car! The one thing most people don't know about me is that I'm still weight conscious after all these years, but luckily I'm hyperactive so I can still shed weight fast.

Q: When is the last time you were on the ice?

A: The last time I was was on the ice was last week, but competitively? 1994.

Q: What is the biggest lesson figure skating has taught you in life?

A: The biggest lesson that figure skating has taught me is how to live life! It taught me structure. Every jump is structured in a specific way, if you lean too much into the loop for example you will fall so don't do it that way! The police service is structured as well with hierarchy of ranks. Skating taught me balance and patience. When it was still FIGURE skating, we did the rockers and the early morning five o'clock without coffee figure eights and traced our circles and used a scribe. It taught me balance which I still have today and use it everywhere I go... even on my motor bike. Who knows, maybe one day you will all see me at Motor Cross? The other life skills that figure skating has taught me are discipline, timorousness, how to deal with difficult situations and making them easy because there is always a reason why something happens. Figure skating really taught me a lot about life, because it still is a part of my life. When I was at Worlds in 1992, I learned how to be a representative for my country at nineteen. It really is immense pressure on anyone of that age. Thanks to that life experience I now continue the good work in the South African Police Service and last year in October Crime Line hosted the Crime Stoppers International Conference held in Cape Town which I too was blessed to be a part of. It was so amazing to meet so many different people with a similar skill set to mine. Thanks to my experience in world events, I managed to speak as a Warrant Officer to high ranking officials with grace, discipline, respect and ease. I have to thank that experience in America for helping this humble South African to be a better person. God bless you one and all and I hope that you are all still sending your tip offs to Crime Stoppers. I'll be protecting you all from afar. For anyone that submits a tip, I salute you. You are my hero!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":