Thursday, August 09, 2007

Peter Snell, Legendary Runner #6

Next on my list is the runner that strode in to the running scene with a powerfully built body, decked in the famous black singlet with the silver fern emblazoned on the chest. He was remarkably similar to Herb Elliott in many ways which will be pointed out shortly. His name was Peter Snell and he hailed from New Zealand.

Snell, like Elliott, was a remarkable athlete who participated in many sports including Rugby, Cricket, Tennis, Badminton and Golf. Snell at the age of 19 would meet the man that would coach him throughout his career, Arthur Lydiard. As told by Snell, Lydiard told the young runner, "Peter, with the sort of speed you've got, if you do endurance training, you could be one of our best middle-distance runners." Motivated by the sage coach as Elliott was with Cerutty, Snell (pictured to the left courtesy of turned his complete attention to running.

During the 1960 Olympics, Elliott dominated his race in the 1500 while Snell had to scrape and claw past world record holder, Roger Moens in the 800 to set a new Olympic record. Less than an hour later, Snell's teammate, Murray Halberg, won the 5000m. gold medal to add credence to Lydiard's marathon based training. Although Lydiard was not considered the New Zealand Olympic Track and Field coach for those athletes, there was no question of his impact with the talented distance runners.

In 1962, Snell established new world standards in the 800m. (1:44.3) and the mile (3:54.4). The 800 time is a still standing New Zealand record and the reputed as the fastest recorded 800m. time on grass. Snell became one of the most feared racer in his time with tremendous endurance and a devastating kick. He was also reported to have run a mid 2:20 Marathon in practice.

In the '64 Olympics, Snell repeated as the 800m. Olympic champion becoming the third Olympian to repeat as 800m. champion following Britain's Douglas Love in '24 and '28 and American Mal Whitfield in '48 and '52. He also doubled back to win the 1500m. (pictured to the right), becoming the last Olympian to win the 800m. and 1500m. in the same Olympics. Snell recorded his last two world records following the Olympics breaking the 1000m. record (still standing NZ record) and lowering his own world record in the mile to 3:54.1 five days later.

Just as Elliott had retired in his prime, Snell shockingly retired in 1965. Even with his short yet brilliant career, Snell was voted as "New Zealand's Sports Champion of the (20th) Century". Other New Zealand runners followed the Halberg/Snell duo with Olympic medals including John Davies (3rd. in '64 800m.), Rod Dixon (3rd. in the '72 1500m.) and finally John Walker (1st in the '76 1500m.). Lydiard's training regimen remains just as effective with today's runners. Coaches like Mark Wetmore of Colorado still use Lydiard's principals in their training program with a very high level of success.

Snell is still active in the exercise world as an associate professor in the division of Cardiology at the Southwestern Medical Center. Along with co-author Garth Gilmore, Snell wrote "Use It or Lose It" which according to the book's website is "the outcome of 30 years of study and practice of preventiono of premature degenerative diseases. The book provides the rationale for and strategies to maintain physical and mental independence throughout one's life span. In other words we offer keys to successful ageing for men and women." Both authors wrote were also responsible for Snell's autobiography, No Bugles, No Drums, which was written in 1965. You can find a copy of this classic book at this link.

Next runner will be posted on Friday.

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