On the opposite side of the street from the War Memorial mural there is a statue of a running figure. I go over to investigate and discover that it’s a dedication to Opunake’s most famous son, Peter Snell.
As a Kiwi I grew up knowing that Peter Snell was a national sporting hero and an amazing world class runner, I didn’t know before now though, that he came from Opunake. There’s a plague on the statue that tells me more:
Peter George Snell, DCNZM, PhD, HonDSc born in Opunake in 1938, is one of the greatest athletes of all time and New Zealand’s Sports Champion of the Twentieth Century.
In the 1960′s he won three Olympic Gold Medal for the 800 and 1500 metres and two Commonwealth Games Gold Medals for the mile and 880 yards track events.
He set seven individual world records during his athletic career, including twice setting a new mark for the mile distance. He was also a member of the of the New Zealand quartet that broke the workd 4×1 mile relay record.
In 1999 he was an inaugural inductee into the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame located at the Universite of Rhode Island.
This statue was modelled by Dr Fridtjof Hanson, bronzed by Ross Wilson and commissioned by the Egmont Community Arts Council in May 2007.
In addition, Wiki tells me:
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 metres record also remains the official “Oceana” continental area record.
Peter studied at various USA universities before joining University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas as a research fellow and professor in 1981.
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.
He’s still a high level sportsman but his new chosen sport is that of Orienteering, where he competed and won at national level in the USA in 2003.Peter’s family name “Snell” is of Dutch origion and actually literally translates as the Dutch word for ”fast“… certainly a name that suited him perfectly during his athletic career.