We were preparing to watch our athletes compete on the world stage around this time, however 2020 had other plans.

Instead, get to know them better with a series of profiles that we will be releasing over the coming days.

Jo Edwards

Date of birth: 5/2/70
Place of birth: Liverpool, England
Current clubs: Enoggera (Brisbane) & United
Year started bowling: 1992
International debut: 2001
Cap number: 35
Caps: 646

World Bowls medals: 2 gold (pairs 2004 & 2008), 2 silver (pairs 2012 & 2016) & 1 bronze (singles 2016)

Commonwealth Games medals: 3 gold (pairs 2002 and singles 2014 & 2018)

National titles: 5 (pairs 2004 & 2011, singles 2011 & 2018 and fours 2017)

Interests outside bowls: Watching sport, walking, going to the beach and music

Jo Edwards is one of New Zealand’s greatest ever bowlers. In two decades, she’s amassed two World Bowls titles, three Commonwealth Games gold medals, a record-equalling six World Cup singles crowns and countless other international honours. The Nelsonian is also the country’s most capped player, having become the first New Zealander to reach 600 caps in 2019.

Edwards is a natural athlete. It didn’t take her long to make her mark on the Nelson sport scene after her family moved to New Zealand when she was a 15-month-old. She represented the province in indoor and outdoor cricket, softball, football, touch rugby and age-group volleyball before picking up a bowl. She was finally introduced to the sport as a 19-year-old in 1989 as part of a Nelson all-rounder competition, in which participants played 17 different codes in the month of May. With softball numbers dwindling bowls soon became her summer sport of choice.

Football was still her winter love and she was in the New Zealand squad for the first half of the 90s, but a frustration at not being able to crack the team led her to call it quits in 1995. Football’s loss was bowls’ gain. By 1997 Edwards was in the national academy and just four years later in the New Zealand squad playing at the Asia Pacific Championships in Moama, where she won gold in the pairs with Sharon Sims. Playing alongside the likes of Sims, Marlene Castle, Millie Khan, Judy Howat and Marie Watson was “a dream come true” for Edwards as she looked up to them all.

The Edwards/Sims combination was unbeatable at the start of the new millennium,  with the pair winning gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester before backing up to win the world title in Scotland two years later, when they were finalists for the Halberg team of the year award. The Commonwealth Games success was particularly satisfying for Edwards, who skipped the pair, as commentators had said they had the team the wrong way around.

After an unsuccessful foray in the singles at the 2006 Melbourne Games, Edwards had a new pairs partner for the 2008 world championships in Christchurch, Val Smith. They had met when Edwards was just 12, quickly became best mates and started playing bowls at the same time. To then win a world title together was “just a fairy tale” for Edwards. They had to settle for silver four years later in Adelaide and Edwards was also runner-up in the pairs with Angela Boyd at the 2016 world championships, when she also claimed bronze in the singles.

While her career highlight came at World Bowls, she stamped her class at the Commonwealth Games. In 2014 Edwards won her first singles gold at Glasgow, before defending her title four years later on the Gold Coast. But she was left with a lingering feeling of disappointment after the 2018 Games as after winning the singles she’d failed to qualify for the quarter-finals of the pairs with Smith. “It was such a high and such a low.”

Jo Edwards moved to Brisbane at the start of 2017 with her husband Dave, who coached the Blackjacks for 10 years, but she’d already established herself as a force in Australia well before then. She has been the undisputed queen of the carpet at Warilla, winning the World Cup singles in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2017 and 2019.

Edwards was also one of the few females in the inaugural Australian Premier League (now Bowls Premier League) season in 2013 and was part of the winning Blackjacks team two years later. Since being in Australia Edwards has been able to focus on playing bowls fulltime and has been a regular performer in the Queensland Premier League.

Jo Edwards was selected to represent New Zealand in the singles and pairs at the 2020 world championships on the Gold Coast, which have been postponed 12 months.

Published with permission from Bowls NZ