14 Dec 2019

Sir Peter Snell dies: 'words cannot describe the impact he has had'

6:47 pm on 14 December 2019

The death of Sir Peter Snell has prompted an outpouring of tributes and farewells to a titan of New Zealand sports history.

Peter Snell, centre, won gold in the men's 1500 metres in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Pictured on the podium with, at left, Josef Odlozil (Cze) and  bronze-medal winner John Davies (NZL).

Peter Snell, centre, won gold in the men's 1500 metres in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Pictured on the podium with, at left, Josef Odlozil (Cze) and bronze-medal winner John Davies (NZL). Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Sir Peter, who has been praised as perhaps New Zealand's greatest ever athlete, won gold in the 800m in the Rome Olympics in 1960, setting a new international record, and the 800m and 1500m in the following Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

He died in his sleep at his home in Dallas on Thursday, local time, just a few days before his 81st birthday.

Barry Magee was with him in the stable of legendary coach, Arthur Lydiard, and said they last met in 2017 when Sir Peter gave two of his three Olympic gold medals and memorabilia to the care of Te Papa.

Magee said Sir Peter was the greatest athlete who has every competed for New Zealand.

"Part of me wants to cry. The other part celebrates the life of this great, great, great New Zealander.

"There wouldn't be another sportsman in New Zealand that would not envy the record that Sir Peter Snell has created and what he has done."

He said Sir Peter was to athletics what Sir Edmund Hillary was to mountaineering.

In a statement, New Zealand Olympic Committee President Mike Stanley said Sir Peter was responsible for some of the finest moments in New Zealand sport.

The New Zealand Olympics Team posted a tribute to the man, saying words could not describe the impact he had on the country's sporting legacy.

The team tweeted that Sir Peter was "a champion, a leader and a great New Zealander and our thoughts are with his friends and family".

Other fellow Olympians and athletes offered their own farewells to a legend.

View this post on Instagram

When he turned 19, Peter Snell (bib 96) decided to give up tennis and the rugby to focus on his running. When we commit wholly to this sport, things change. He got faster, much faster. He won… more and more frequently. Then, a stress fracture in his tibia put him on crutches for 3 months. This couldn’t have come at a worse time, as New Zealand was using the results of the upcoming season to pick the Olympic Team... Snell waited. 2 months of total inactivity. Several doctors opinions, then, gradually, he returned to running. ⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ He came back. For a month wore the thickest shoes he could find and ran only on grass surfaces. The speed returned. 18 months later, he stood on the top step in Rome and had an Olympic Gold Medal hung around his neck.⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ If you get hurt, listen to your doctors, take the time off, heal, you’ll be back in no time, and those obstacles don’t stand a chance. ⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ #olympichistory #runninghistory #historicrunners #historicrunning #newzealand #petersnell #allblacks #newzealandrunners #nohumanislimited #eliudkipchoge #marathon #runnerfortheworld #runnersworld #runningmotivation #runninghistory #runninggal #runninglife #runhappy #instarunners #run #runningismylife #runforever #plantarfasciitis #training #runnersofinstagram #larinascente #runner #stayyoung #asics #keeprunning

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In 2000 he was voted New Zealand Athlete of the Century and he became a Distinguished Companion of the Order of New Zealand in 2002.

Many people had fond memories of Sir Peter, both on the track and off it.

Politicians shared their thoughts, with Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson saying he was "one of our true sporting heroes".

"Sir Peter is recognised as New Zealand's greatest ever athlete. He was world class, driven, determined and humble," Mr Robertson said in a statement.

"Sir Peter's achievements weren't just on the track. He always had a desire to give back to his sport and his country. He remained a proud New Zealander, and is loved and admired by generations of New Zealanders."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Sir Peter was "a legend, here and around the world".

"Our thoughts are with Sir Peter's wife Miki and their family."

And tributes flew from journalists.