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Peter Snell

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Title: Peter Snell  
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Subject: Athletics at the 1964 Summer Olympics – Men's 800 metres, Dave Wottle, New Zealand Olympic medallists, New Zealand at the 1964 Summer Olympics, IAAF Hall of Fame
Collection: 1938 Births, Athletes (Track and Field) at the 1960 Summer Olympics, Athletes (Track and Field) at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Athletes (Track and Field) at the 1964 Summer Olympics, Commonwealth Games Competitors for New Zealand, Commonwealth Games Gold Medallists for New Zealand, Former World Record Holders in Athletics (Track and Field), International Association of Athletics Federations Hall of Fame Inductees, Knights Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, Living People, Male Middle-Distance Runners, Members of the Order of the British Empire, New Zealand Emigrants to the United States, New Zealand Middle-Distance Runners, New Zealand Orienteers, New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame Inductees, Olympic Athletes of New Zealand, Olympic Gold Medalists for New Zealand, Olympic Medalists in Athletics (Track and Field), People Educated at Mount Albert Grammar School, People from Opunake, People from Taranaki, People from Te Aroha, Sports Players and Officials Awarded Knighthoods, University of California, Davis Alumni
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Peter Snell

Sir Peter George Snell
Peter Snell at the 1964 Olympics
Personal information
Birth name Peter George Snell[1]
Nationality New Zealander
Born (1938-12-17) 17 December 1938 [1]
Opunake, Taranaki[1]
Residence Texas, United States
Height 1.79 m (5 ft 10 in)[1]
Weight 80 kg (180 lb)[1]
Sport Athletics
Event(s) 800 m, 1500 m
Coached by Arthur Lydiard
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 800 metres: 1:44.3[2] (NR)
1500 metres: 3:37.6[2]
Mile: 3:54.03[2]

Sir Peter George Snell KNZM OBE (born 17 December 1938) is a New Zealand former middle-distance runner, now resident in Texas, United States. He had one of the shortest careers of world famous international sportsmen, yet achieved so much that he was voted New Zealand’s "Sports Champion of the (20th) Century"[3] and was one of 24 inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federations Hall Of Fame named in 2012.[4] A protégé of the New Zealand athletics coach Arthur Lydiard, Snell is known for the three Olympic and two Commonwealth Games gold medals he won, and the several world records he set.


  • Early athletic career 1
  • Olympic success 2
  • World records 3
  • Career after retirement from sport 4
  • Commemorations and awards 5
  • Personal bests 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early athletic career

Born in Opunake, Snell moved with his family to Waikato in 1949 where he attended Te Aroha College and became an all-around sportsman. He won several middle-distance running events in his hometown of Te Aroha, although some members of his new school lived in Ngaruawahia. He attended Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland, where he took up a wide range of team and individual sports, including rugby union, cricket, tennis, badminton, and golf. As a teenager, Snell excelled in tennis, and pursued the sport through appearances at the Auckland and New Zealand Junior Tennis Championships.[5]

At age 19, Snell was motivated to concentrate seriously on running by the comments of his future coach, Arthur Lydiard, who told him, "Peter, with the sort of speed you've got, if you do the endurance training, you could be one of our best middle-distance runners."[6] During his early career under the tutelage of Lydiard, he started with New Zealand titles and records for 880 yards and the mile and, being an unusually large (by track standards) and powerful man, hinted of great things to come.

Olympic success

He came to international attention when he won the gold medal and set a new national record for 800 m at the Rome Olympics in 1960. He was particularly dominant four years later at the Tokyo Olympics where he won the gold and set a new Olympic record in the 800 metres, and won gold in the 1500 metres. The 800–1500 metres double was not achieved again by a male athlete in open global championship until Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain won both golds at the 2005 World Championships in Athletics at Helsinki. (After the 2008 Olympic Games Ramzi was stripped of his Olympic gold medal for doping, but that penalty was not applied retroactively to his World Championship gold medals).

World records

In January 1962 Snell broke the world mile record before a huge crowd at Cooks Gardens in Whanganui,[7] and one week later set new world records for both the 800 m and 880 yd at Christchurch. He then won gold and set a new record for 880 yd at the Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962, and won gold for the mile at those same games.

In all, Snell set five individual world records and joined with fellow New Zealand athletes to set a new four by one mile relay record as well. He was at the peak of his career in 1965 and promising much more, when he stunned New Zealand and the athletics world by announcing his retirement to move on to other things.

Snell's former world records of 1 minute 44.3 seconds for 800 m, set on 3 February 1962, and 2 minutes 16.6 seconds for 1000 m set on 12 November 1964, remain the New Zealand national records for these distances. His 800 m record remains the fastest ever run over that distance on a grass track, and is also the oldest national record recognized by the IAAF for a standard track and field event. The 800 m record also remains the official Oceania continental area record.[8]

Career after retirement from sport

Snell worked for a tobacco company before moving to the United States of America in 1971 to further his education. He gained a B.S. in human performance from the University of California, Davis, and then a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Washington State University. He joined University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas as a research fellow in 1981. He is associate professor, Department of Internal Medicine and also director of their Human Performance Center. A member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Snell was honoured in 1999 as an Inaugural Inductee, International Scholar, into the Athlete Hall of Fame, University of Rhode Island.

Adopting a new sport, Snell become an active orienteer and won his category, men aged 65 and older, in the 2003 United States Orienteering Championship.[9] He is a past president of the North Texas Orienteering Association and a member of the United States Orienteering Federation.

Commemorations and awards

Statue of Snell erected in 2007

Following his success at the Perth Commonwealth Games in 1962, Snell was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services in the field of athletics in the 1962 Queen's Birthday Honours.[10] Three years later he was elevated to Officer of the same order in the 1965 New Year Honours.[11] In the 2002 New Year Honours he was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to sport,[12] and in 2009, following the restoration of titular honours by the New Zealand government, he was redesignated as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and invested by the Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Anand Satyanand.[13]

Snell was one of five Olympic athletes from New Zealand featured on a series of commemorative postage stamps issued in August 2004 to commemorate the 2004 Olympic Games. The two dollar stamp issued by New Zealand Post features a stylized photo of Snell snapping the tape at the finish line of the 800 metres race at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.[14]

He was selected by Track and Field News' as their "Athlete of the '60's" and was pictured on the cover of the December 1969 issue.[15]

In 2007 he was awarded an honorary doctorate (DSc) by Massey University in recognition of his work as an exercise physiologist.[16]

A larger than life-size bronze statue of Peter Snell was erected in his hometown of Opunake, Taranaki, and was unveiled on 19 May 2007. The statue is based on a photo of Snell crossing the finish line in the historic race at Wanganui's Cook's Gardens in 1962.[17] A similar bronze statue of Snell was unveiled in Cook's Gardens on 15 August 2009 to commemorate his athletic achievements.[18]

Interviewed by the Wanganui Chronicle after the unveiling, Snell said he was internationally known as a miler, but he had never reached his potential over the mile and the 800 metres was probably his best distance.[19] He said his greatest effort was the world 800m/880yard double record set on Lancaster Park a few days after his new mile record, with an 800m time that would have won the gold medal 46 years later at the Beijing Olympics.

In 2001, Macleans College in Auckland created Snell House as part of its "whanau house" system.[20]

The Peter Snell Youth Village, on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, in North Auckland, New Zealand, is also named after him. They run holiday camps for young people.[21]

Personal bests

Distance Time Place Date
800m 1:44.3 NR Christchurch 1962
1000m 2:16.6 NR Auckland 1964
1500m* 3:37.6 Auckland 1964
Mile 3:54.1 Auckland 1964


  • ^1 En route in the 3:54.1 mile.[2]


Cited references
  1. ^ a b c d e "Peter Snell". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d All-Athletics. "Profile of Peter Snell". 
  3. ^ "New Zealand Sports Hall Of Fame". Peter Snell. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  4. ^ IAAF Hall Of Fame. "Peter Snell to be inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame". IAAF Hall Of Fame. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  5. ^ Ferstle, Jim. "Peter Snell: Gentleman, Athlete, Scholar".  
  6. ^ Winder, Virginia (2003) "Peter Snell's One-Track Mind". Retrieved 10 Jan. 2006.
  7. ^ Chapman, Grant (22 Jan 2012). "Athletics: Run of a lifetime 50 years on".  
  8. ^ "800 Metres Records". Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  9. ^ Bay Area Orienteering Club (2003). 2003 Silva U.S. Orienteering Championships, Fallen Leaf Lake, South Lake Tahoe. Retrieved 23 Jan. 2006.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 42685. p. 4348. 2 June 1962. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 43531. p. 44. 1 January 1965. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  12. ^ "New Year honours list 2002". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2001. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  13. ^ "Ancient knighthood tradition revived in gothic church". 3News. 15 August 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  14. ^ "Olympic Games". New Zealand Post. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  15. ^ Track and Field News: 1969 Covers
  16. ^ "Honorary graduates". Massey University. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  17. ^ "Opunake honours Peter Snell". Retrieved 2010-04-14
  18. ^ "Sir Peter Snell honoured in Wanganui".  
  19. ^ Ogilvie, David (17 August 2009). "Snell times two".  
  20. ^ "Snell House". Macleans College. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "Peter Snell Youth Village". Peter Snell Youth Village. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
General references
  • Snell, Peter and Gilmour, Garth (1965). No Bugles, No Drums. Auckland: Minerva.

External links

  • Sporting HeroesPage with Photo, one of two at
  • Peter Snell - Athlete - A documentary made in 1964 available to view on NZ On Screen
  • Peter Snell at NZOC website
Preceded by
Roger Moens
Men's 800 metres world record holder
equalled by Ralph Doubell and Dave Wottle

2 February 1962 – 27 June 1973
Succeeded by
Marcello Fiasconaro
Preceded by
Herb Elliott
Men's mile world record holder
27 January 1962 – 9 June 1965
Succeeded by
Michel Jazy
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Ralph Boston
Track & Field Athlete of the Year
Succeeded by
Yang Chuan-kwang
Preceded by
Yang Chuan-kwang
Succeeded by
Ron Clarke
Preceded by
Murray Halberg
Lonsdale Cup of the New Zealand Olympic Committee
Succeeded by
Bill Baillie
Preceded by
Bill Baillie
Succeeded by
Don Oliver
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