Okay, those who read my American Track and Field newsletter for ten years, which preceded RunBlogRun, will remember my holiday gift guide or my guide to using your holiday gift cards. I am starting that up again with Larry’s Holiday Gift List.
Peter Snell and the Kiwis Who Flew
By Vern Walker
A superb new book on middle and long-distance running . . .
This is a book that really has legs! Dynamic descriptions of Olympic finals and with a style of writing that often surprises. It covers the golden era between 1956 and 1965 when, amazingly, New Zealand middle and long-distance runners bettered or equaled 23 world records or world best times. The author, New Zealander Vern Walker, has superbly captured the heady atmosphere of this period in his highly entertaining new book: ‘Peter Snell and the Kiwis Who Flew.’
Peter Snell and his wingmen, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee, and John Davies burst onto the world running scene like a tsunami. Along with 800-meter runner Marise Chamberlain they won seven Olympic Games medals.
Under the guidance of their innovative and pragmatic coach Arthur Lydiard–his name now an established part of the international distance running lexicon–these runners blitzed top class fields all around the globe.
Their domination was such that they would sit around Lydiard’s kitchen table before the New Zealand championships every year, and pre-determine which titles they would win in every track event from the 800-meters to the 10,000-meters, and also the marathon.
Of the section on statistics, and world ranking lists the author writes, “Statistics are the bare-boned unalterable figures that remain long after the memory distorts and fades away. A statistic is always sober, never embellishes and never brags. So I’ve included some of the memorable ones along the way.”
The author’s chapter on the infamous 22-mile Sunday run, on the roads up into the Waitakere Ranges, run by thousands of Auckland’s keener distance runners, brought back good (and bad!) memories. There’s not a distance runner who has trained over this hilly terrain that doesn’t have his own stories about how this scenic loop reduced them to tears or a slow walk, at some time during their running career. Or the time, when, athletically mature, they flew around the route as if they had sprouted wings.
This book is more than just a story about a group of New Zealand runners. It’s also a global look at the subject with cameos involving the Americans Bob Schul, Dyrol Burleson and Jim Beatty. Also mentioned are distance running legends Roger Bannister, Abebe Bikila, Ron Clarke, Bill Crothers, Ron Delany, Herb Elliott, ‘Kip’ Keino, George Kerr, John Landy, Roger Moens, Albie Thomas and the incomparable Emil Zatopek.
Some comments on the book by the featured New Zealand athletes . . .
Peter Snell (triple Olympic gold medalist and twice one mile world record holder) writes, “This is a book written with passion, with tidbits of humour and off-the-wall phraseology. Refreshingly different. A real page turner.”
Murray Halberg (gold medalist, 5,000-meters, 1960 Olympic Games, Rome) writes, “A brilliant and highly descriptive account, which colorfully describes the fear of defeat and the joy of victory.”
Barry Magee (bronze medal winner, 1960 Rome Olympics) says, “A masterful story. Having personally known Vern since our days of competition, and since, I know this history is backed by meticulous research. Grade out of ten. Eleven!”
The author’s style is graphic and uniquely descriptive. When describing Snell’s surge past Roger Moens of Belgium to win the 800-meters at the Olympic Games in Rome he writes, “Suddenly, Snell drew level with Moens. So shocked was Moens, that his face looked like he had seen a ghost in his bedroom.”
On Snell’s sprint to win the 1,500-meters at the 1964 Olympic Games, Walker writes, “Like a lean Yellowstone grizzly that suddenly spots a fat camper, Snell simply took off. He completely scatter-gunned the opposition.”
On Halberg’s agonizing break on the field en route to his Olympic 5,000-meters victory, “The lifting muscles of his thighs must have seemed to be as heavy as grand pianos. Each stride became like an expedition.”
To round off the book there are extensive chapters on the marathon and cross-country.
Peter Snell and the Kiwis Who Flew
An oversized book of 305 pages and 124 photos, with a section of color pictures.
Available through www.Fishpond.nz (Auckland, New Zealand).
Cost NZ$40.29 (approx US$37.00), plus delivery costs.