Skip to main content

Olympic runner Peter Snell, seen here in Sydney on June 22, 1999, was considered New Zealand’s greatest athlete, and won three Olympic gold medals.

Mark Baker/Reuters

Famed New Zealand Olympic middle distance runner Peter Snell has died in Dallas at the age of 80, The New Zealand Herald reported on Saturday.

The newspaper reported sports historian and friend Ron Palenski confirmed Mr. Snell had died at his Texas home on Thursday after years of heart problems.

Mr. Palenski said Mr. Snell’s wife, Miki, had telephoned him to share the news.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Snell, considered New Zealand’s greatest athlete, won three Olympic gold medals. He took the 800 metres at the 1960 Rome Games and won both the 800 and 1,500 metres at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

He is the only man since 1920 to have won both events at the same Olympics.

“Peter Snell was to running what Sir Edmund Hillary was to mountaineering,” friend and Olympic marathoner Barry Magee once said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern remembered Mr. Snell as “a legend, here and around the world. Our thoughts are with Sir Peter’s wife, Miki, and their family.”

​Under the guidance of famed coach Arthur Lydiard, the powerfully built Mr. Snell became one of the most dominant middle-distance runners in history.

He set world records in the mile and 800 metres and also won dual gold at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth.

Mr. Snell was preparing to celebrate his 81st birthday on Tuesday.

Story continues below advertisement

His wife, Miki, told New Zealand’s Stuff her husband was having a good day on Thursday, despite a health scare last month when he passed out while driving and crashed into several parked vehicles.

With Toronto's Bill Crothers trailing, Peter Snell of New Zealand wins the 1,000-yard run in record time, on Feb. 11, 1962.

The Associated Press

“He felt good, he had gone and done some activities, and was planning on doing more – he wanted to play table tennis,” she told the publication. “He lay down to watch the news on TV and fell asleep.

“I tried to wake him up but he wouldn’t move. The paramedics came in about five minutes but they couldn’t wake him.”

Mr. Snell retired from running in 1965 and later became a sports scientist in the United States.

His work mainly focused on the kind of extreme performance he had personally achieved.

“I really wanted to know what made athletes tick ... try to understand why Arthur Lydiard’s training methods worked so well,” he wrote in Peter Snell: From Olympian to Scientist in 2007.

Story continues below advertisement

Although living in the U.S., Mr. Snell was always admired in New Zealand. He was elevated to Sir Peter Snell in 2009 and was voted New Zealand’s Sportsman of the Twentieth Century.

“Just reading his name says greatness to me,” Nick Willis, New Zealand’s two-time Olympic medalist in the 1,500 metres, said on Twitter. “He is the greatest ever. Absolute dominance in his era.”

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies