SIR PETER SNELL

Scrolling through some old YouTube footage this week and came across one of New Zealand’s greatest sportsman, the late Sir Peter Snell.

Watching the old footage of him setting world records at Cooks Gardens in Whanganui and at Lancaster Park in Christchurch in 1962 reminded me of the time I got to see the great man run.

Peter Snell - 1500m 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games

At Athletic Park in my then home town of Blenheim (NZ) Snell was a guest runner in a local event which featured the best runners from the top of the south and a few other invited runners. 

What struck me immediately when I saw him warming up was how big a man he was 177.8cm tall and weighed over 80kgs but then it was the sheer power of his running when the race got underway (pretty sure it was 1500m). He looked as though he was just jogging then when he turned on the after burners, the rest of the field looked like they had stopped.

Snell’s running career was pretty short, from 1960-65 but during that time he set five individual world records, won three Olympic Gold medals, the 800m in Rome in 1960 and the 800m and 1500m in Tokyo 1964 and two Commonwealth Games gold medals at Perth in 1962. Coached by another Kiwi legend Arthur Lydiard, Snell’s success led a running revolution in New Zealand during a period of great success including Murray Halberg’s epic 5000m Olympic gold in Rome in 1960.

Not surprisingly he was voted New Zealand sports champion of the 20th century and was an inaugural inductee to the International Association of Athletics Federation Hall of Fame.

Poetry In Motion.

Born in the Taranaki town of Opunake, Snell retired from competition in 1965 and in 1971 moved to the USA where he began a glittering career in the medical industry. He gained a Bachelor of Science in human performance at the University of California and a PhD in exercise physiology at Washington State University. He also became a member of the American college of sports medicine.

Later in life Snell became a champion in two other sports at masters level, orienteering and Table tennis.

He died in Texas of heart failure in 2019 aged 80.

Watch two of Snell’s world record runs at Whanganui and Christchurch and see the sheer power of his running which in most races left the rest of the field well behind.

Interview & Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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