18 Sep 2021

Dr Jenny Clarke: Croquet and the Large Hadron Collider

From Saturday Morning, 9:35 am on 18 September 2021

Christchurch’s Jenny Clarke has been ranked the number one women’s croquet player in the world for most of the last 15 years. 

Clarke is a senior lecturer in sports science at the University of Canterbury, where her work has included ground-breaking research using motion capture technology to assess wrist injury risk in the croquet swing.

Clarke started playing croquet as a hobby while studying for a PhD in physics at Oxford University. 

After completing her studies, she went on to work as a scientist on the team searching for the ‘God particle’ at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva between 2005-2008. 

Clarke took a New Zealand delegation of physicists to CERN in 2007, and while there won the croquet Swiss Open.

She also worked with a group of the world's top croquet players to write the sequel to the ‘bible of croquet coaching’, Expert Croquet Tactics in 2019.

Clarke tells Kim Hill the origins of croquet are very much unknown. 

"There are thoughts about France because of the name of the game, but also suggestions that perhaps it came from Ireland as well. 

"It seems to have sprung up and been taken on by Commonwealth countries."

One outlier is Egypt where croquet is exceedingly popular. 

'Kids play cricket and soccer after school [here], in Egypt a lot of the 10-year-olds actually play croquet. It's a sport they take up quite young and they've dominated the sport for a long, long time but New Zealand, in particular, has really caught up now."

Internationally, the standard colour for croquet players to wear is white but, in New Zealand, any colours are acceptable and our national team wears black on the grass.

"It's absolutely brilliant during test matches to look across the lawns and see people in black, we really stand out as a team."

She said that before croquet hits events like the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games, she like to see more diversity in the sport. 

"I'd like to see it a lot more reflective of the diversity of our society."

Clarke met her husband while playing croquet, himself a champion of the sport, and say it's the best thing she's gotten out of the game.

"I compete with and, occasionally, against him. He's got a fantastic record against me, though I've won a couple of events over him.

"We're the only couple to have won the world's teams championship... we've done very well playing doubles together."

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