13 January 2010
Rose Gardens Country Club, Palmerston North, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand
story by Peter Lampp in Manawatu Standard, Wellington, New Zealand
photo by Sam Baker in Manawatu Standard, Wellington, New Zealand
|HE'S ON TOP: Englishman Chris Clarke in action at the Palmerston North City Clubs tournament at the Rose Gardens.|
Few sports around the globe could boast the world No1s as husband and wife.
And probably only croquet could boast the world's top man playing 12 hours a day at the Rose Gardens lawns without any semblance of fanfare.
Englishman Chris Clarke has been playing in the 21st Palmerston North City Clubs tournament as a lead-up event for the nationals at Whanganui next week.
His wife, Kiwi Jenny Williams, happens to be the world's best women's player and she is at home in Christchurch.
Croquet has virtually steered Clarke's life since he put his hand up as a 13-year-old when his French teacher at school in Blackburn sought volunteers.
Clarke met his future wife through the sport when she was studying at Oxford University.
"Both jobs I have had through croquet contacts and I have travelled the world because of croquet," he said.
For instance, he's been to the United States 14 times, to South Africa and Australia twice, to mainland Europe, where the sport is growing, to Egypt ...
He has a background in logistics and worked in milk transport in England, and now is in sports training and is a house husband.
The Egyptians dominate golf croquet, the shorter version of the game, and there has never been a non-Egyptian as world champion. Clarke is No3 in golf croquet, No1 in association croquet.
"I've been the world No1 since halfway through the world championships in 2008, not been overtaken during that period."
Clarke won the 2008 title in Christchurch and helped organise the event.
"There are two very good players who most people would argue are better than me."
He lists them as Englishman Robert Fulford, who won the latest of his five world championships in Florida last May, and South African Reg Bamford, who has won three world championships.
Clarke maintains his status, which is based on rankings, despite his back giving him problems. He hits the ball harder than most and this week the wet lawns have forced him to hit harder than normal.
Clarke and his wife are the only two of the world's top 100 players whose mallet heads are tipped with lignum vitae, one of the world's hardest woods. He likes the feel of it, rather than the artificial materials the other 98 players use, such as nylon, brass or aluminium.
He plays 200 games a year and the wooden tips last about 100 games.
After four years in Christchurch, he is eligible to represent New Zealand.
"I love living in New Zealand but the fact is, I'm still British, and you've got to play for where your heart says you should.
"From 17 to 33, I have represented Great Britain and I have no reason to change."