Supermiler Peter Snell dies aged 80

Three-time Olympic champion and world record-breaking middle-distance man from New Zealand passes away on eve of 81st birthday

One of the greatest middle-distance runners in history, Sir Peter Snell, has died just days before his 81st birthday.

The New Zealand legend won the Olympic 800m title in Rome in 1960 followed by 800m and 1500m gold medals at the Tokyo Games in 1964 – and he remains the only man to have completed this unique double at the Olympics.

During his relatively short career he also won Commonwealth titles at 880 yards and the mile in Perth in 1962 and set world records for 800m (1:44.3), 880 yards (1:45.1), 1000m (2:16.6) and the mile (3:54.1) – with the latter set in Auckland in 1964.

Coached by Arthur Lydiard, their methods had a huge influence on runners around the world with Snell building strength with lots of steady mileage before applying the finishing touches with speedwork close to his big races.

Impressively, many of his performances came on the grass tracks of New Zealand, too. These included his 800m best of 1:44.3, which would still, more than half a century later, be a world-class time today if it was achieved on a synthetic track let alone grass. Indeed, it survived as the Oceania 800m record until 2018 when Joseph Deng finally beat it.

After his athletics career ended he studied human performance and exercise physiology in the United States in the 1970s and, more recently, was based in Dallas, where he died in sleep on Thursday (Dec 12). He was also feted for his achievements, often described as New Zealand’s greatest ever sportsman, with a knighthood among the many honours bestowed upon.

» To read more about Peter Snell see the next issue of AW magazine

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