Peter George Snell (born December 17, 1938, in Opunake) is a former New Zealand (also known as NZL) track athlete who now resident in Texas, United States (also known as USA) . Peter Snell was voted New Zealand’s "Sports Champion of the (20th) Century". A protege of the great New Zealand athletics coach Arthur Lydiard, Snell is known for the three Olympic gold medals.
Early athletic career
Snell's family moved to Waikato in 1949, where he 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.
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." 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.
He came to international attention when he won the gold medal and set a new record for 800 m at the 1960 Olympics. He was particularly dominant four years later at the 1964 Olympics where he won the gold and set a new record in the 800 m, and won gold in the 1500 m. His time in the 800 m would have been good enough to win silver, and only fractionally miss gold, 36 years later at the 2000 Olympics. The 800-1500 m 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.
In January 1962 Snell broke the world mile record before a huge crowd at Cook’s Gardens in Wanganui, 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. Later that year he was created a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
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 .
Snell's 800 m time from 1962 remains the fastest ever run over that distance on a grass track. It is also the oldest national record recognized by the IAAF for a standard track and field event.
Snell worked for a tobacco company before moving to the USA 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. 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 has become an active orienteer. He won his category, men aged 65 and older, in the 2003 United States Orienteering Championship. He is a past president of the North Texas Orienteering Association and a member of the United States Orienteering Federation.
A house in Macleans College, Auckland is named after him.
Peter 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 Peter Snell snapping the tape at the finish line of the 800 meter race at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
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