Considering the late Peter Snell, and what we should learn from his legacy...


Peter Snell is an iconic figure in athletics. HIs wins at 800m in 1960, and his double win at 800m and 1,500m in 1964. At the age of 80, Peter Snell laid down to take a nap on December 13, 2019 and did not wake up. Mr. Snell had some heart issues since 2009, and in recent weeks, his heart was reminding him that we all have mortal engines.

In this piece, I want to consider the legacy of the late Peter Snell and his legacy...

snell-pet-object-4-rome-1960-.jpgPeter Snell, photo by the New Zealand Olympic Committee

1. Athletics is the sport of those with big dreams. In 1960, when Peter Snell (800m) and Murray Halberg (5000m) won gold medals, within the same hour, making it one of the finest hours in New Zealand Athletic history. The amazing thing was, both were trained by the same coach and ran with the same group. Both Kiwis gave New Zealand their top stars since 1936 and Jack Lovelock. The other lesson was that, one could be on top of the world in athletics whether one was from a big country or small country. ( Consider Venuste Nyongabo, gold at 5000m in 1996, gold at 1,500m in 1995.

2. The 800m-5000m training was changed forever. Consider this, one training group, lead by this eccentric, colorful, boisterous New Zealand milkman. His name was Arthur Lydiard and he was a total nutjob, but a good nutjob. He loved his athletes, and his ideas on modern training: build athletes into strong runners and sharpen them. ( I spent time with Coach Lydiard in the late 1980s and late 1990s. I loved the man, he was thoughtful, talkative and delightful. His stories were non stop.)r

3. Successful athletes come in all shapes and sizes. Peter Snell was a monster by 1960 standards. In 1960, there were few tiny distance runners, like today. Snell was 80 kg, or 176.7 pounds! Lydiard had gotten Snell into fine shape, running 22 miles each Sunday, and 100 miles a week. Snell was a moose, a very fast moose at that! Think Chris Solinksy, former US 10,000m recorrd holder, with fifteen pounds added on, to consider the size of Peter Snell.

4. Train to get faster in the heats, and kick in the final. Snell grew faster in the heats, but he was still 3 seconds slower than then WR holder Roger Moens. Moens was totally shocked at the finish (look at the picture!) as Snell caught him. Lydiard and Snell had focused on making it round by round, and Snell did not consider himself having much chance to win in 1960. Keeping expectations under control is key to success.

acebookjumbo-jpg-595.jpgSnell takes Moen, 1960 Olympics, photo by IOC

5. The 800m/1,500m double is insane, respect it. Peter Snell won the 800m/1,500m in 1964. The double was last done by a male athlete in 1920. That feat was done by Albert Hill, GBR, and on the men's side, the closest to come to it, Seb Coe, took gold in 1,500m in 1980 and 1984, and silver at 800m in 1980 and 1984. (Trivia, 1920 silver medalist at 1,500m, was Phillip Baker, who won the 1959 Nobel Peace Prize).

Peter Snell kept New Zealand proud of its athletics traditions. In 1965, a year after his famous double, he was defeated in several small events, but also lost his Mile WR to Michel Jazy, the French star and Olympic 1960 silver medalist at 1,500m. During that season, Peter Snell announced his retirement. At the time, he still held 5 world records.

Peter Snell was born 17 December 1938, and died 13 December 2019. He was voted New Zealand Sports Champion of the 20th century. In 1960 Olympics, Mr. Snell won the gold at 800m. In 1964 Olympics, Mr. Snell won the 800m gold and 1,500m gold. He also won gold in two Commonwealth Games.

Please keep Peter Snell and his family in your thoughts and prayers. He lived a long, colorful life.

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