Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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Peter Snell 17/12/1938 - 12/12/2019

When New Zealander Peter Snell died, in Dallas, on the 12th of December 2019, he was known as Sir Peter George Snell, OBE; PhD, as Director of The Human Performance Laboratory UT South Western Medical Centre Texas, USA.
Perhaps the most special athletics accolade he was awarded was, when he was voted for, as the  New Zealand’s Sports Champion of the 20th Century. As a hero of Sir John Walker, I would think John would agree with that sentiment about Peter Snell.

Going back to the start for Peter Snell, one must point out his father played golf and his mother played tennis so’ there was interest in sport from the word go. Peter Snell’s earliest days playing sport, as he was a strong looking lad he played rugby, tennis, cricket and golf. It was a former rival at school called Michael Macky who, set up a meeting with coach Arthur Lydiard which, of course, became very beneficial to Peter, as it was to Murray Halberg the 1960 Olympic 5000 Champion. They both did a very scenic undulating 21 mile run together.
Lydiard’s ideas were to break the year into phases, loading the endurance on to the front end, blending in hills and cross-country and finishing off with speed and sharpening work.

Peter Snell was born on the 17th of December 1938 and his racing weight was 80kg/176lbs and 1,79/5’10 in height.

Now for some amazing highlights in his athletics career.
World Records 800 1:44.3/1:45.1;1000/2:16.6;1500 3:37.6;Mile/3:54.1. World Record Relay 4x One Mile in 16:23.8 (With Murray Halberg; Gary Philpott; & Barry Magee).
1960 Olympic Gold at 800 in Rome,
In the final lap George Kerr was ahead, then Roger Moens attacked very positively but from behind and, rushing through, in the last 100m, was Peter Snell’ catching Moens in the final dash for the line.  Snell had managed a NZ record in the first round and again in the semi-final but was not expected to get anything better than a bronze, finish. So it was a ‘Great surprise to Moens (1 Snell, NZ, 1:46.3 in an Olympic record)’1; 2 Roger Moens (Belgium)1:46.5; 3 George Kerr (Jamaica) 1:47.1. Of course, in those days it was still of the days of cinder tracks or grass running outside of the Championships.In 1962 Peter Snell won the British Empire and Commonwealth Games 880 & Mile respectively in 1:47.6 (Games record) & 4.4.6.
16th of October, 1964 was the Final of the 800m at the Tokyo Olympics. Kenyan Wilson Kiprigut, who went on to come a close second in the 800 in Mexico Olympics of 1968, led through 200 in 24.9.and at 400 in 52.0. Snell moved out to try to get to the front with 600 to go. Kerr was with him till Peter Snell powered home in the final straight. First 4-1 Peter Snell (NZ) 1:45.1 0lympic record; 2 Bill Crothers (Canada) 1:45.6: 3 Wilson Kiprigut (Kenya) 1:45.9;4 George Kerr (Jamaica) 1:45.9.

Peter Snell retired from racing in the latter part of 1965, after losing quite a few races in America and the then, was well beaten in a  mile in the UK but still was running Under 4 minutes for a mile.
In  a race against Jim Ryun in the States, was a highlight in in  San Diego on the 27th of June, Ryun won in 3:55.4, Peter Snell was 2nd in  3:55.5 and Joseph Odlozil  3rd in 3:55.6 but then in London he was well back in an international race, won by Odlozil  in 3:56.6 on the 3rd of July with John Davies of New Zealand 2nd in 3:56.8 and behind that but, in front of Snell were John Whetton, Andy Green and Tony Harris.

In 1965 after that race I talked to charming, John Davies, at a Lancaster Gate hotel and, I thought what he had to say should be recorded for the BMC News here, to end this article by someone who knew Peter Snell very well to complete this artice.

“I’ve listened to All sorts of theories as to why Peter had been beaten in recent weeks, most have been pure conjecture and utter nonsense. Although he has obviously not been as fit as he could ’I know there is still nobody today that could beat him on his best form.
Now, sadly, he has retired, not until he had completed his tour, and honored all his obligations. He has always been loath to disappoint anyone and, though he lost form whilst on the tour in the US, was adamant about completing the tour before retirement, which was imminent anyway.
Peter and I talked about this and I think he did right by retiring at this point, as originally planned, even though he was no longer ‘The King’. He would not, I know, have been able I know, to carry it on his conscience if he had  withdrawn from the tour. In his own words he would have been a *failure* It was a pity Peter did not once more find his form before making his announcement, and finish his career at the pinnacle. To retire on that note, I can assure you was very hard.
The loss of form must have been a bitter pill to swallow, and I think it must have been caused by the culmination of several factors. Firstly, none of us have been able to train properly on tour, getting enough long runs as well as speed work between races, Prior to his arrival in America he had a good program  of training behind him. ;He had clocked 2 hours 2 minutes for the Waterkere run, that believe me is good. In the States he ran 3:56.4 & 3:55.4 but beaten in the faster race. Next point The Americans are very kind and look after one very well too well in fact. The food is so good, and with the rounds of meeting people, public appearances and sightseeing, it is not possible to do much other than the two short daily sessions catered for on tour and, they are not enough to sweat out the good living. Peter through this and, as soon as he stops running, the weight piles on. Another contributory factor in his decline has been the amount of travelling done. Peter being big-muscled (I don’t think I have met  another fellow with so much muscle on his legs) is prone to a much larger degree  of muscular fatigue, causing the muscles to tie up under stress.
People naturally look for things to criticize in ‘top people’ no matter what their leaning, politics, sport, science  or normal life. Peter has had plenty of this, but he has it all in perspective with, as far as he is concerned, only his own feelings to count. A week before Tokyo he found it hard to dip below 1:50 for a half; he was criticized. But Snell with Lydiard, soon put that bogey to rest. Way back at Perth he was criticized for running slow but Peter wanted to make sure of his win. Shouldn’t tactics play any part now? He was beaten by Ryun in the states but only clocking 1 slower; He was criticized for bad tactics. But is anyone invincible? Elliott was beaten by Snell in their only meeting.
At the White City Peter so wanted to do well in his last visit. He has a great affection for England, and must have felt very downhearted at the response of the crowd. As he stepped on to the track for the WAAA race he was greeted with spontaneous cheering and applause. I thought and so did he that he was ready for a great one-and so did he, and led him through after the half mile (I was always ready to tow him round for a good one) but even though, once again slid below 4 minutes, with his presence along perhaps the main cause of so many going ‘under’ four in that race, he received NOT ONE HAND CLAP at the end.
As close friend I was overjoyed at his triumphs in Tokyo, even though I was one of his ‘Rivals’. Although his times will sometime pass into oblivion the era of Snell will remain with many until their dying day. Certainly I shall miss him. Quiet, likeable, always on the bright side, never despairing, Peter Snell is of a type so rare in the World today. A King”

Alastair Aitken

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