Local Heart, Global Soul

August 12, 2012

Snell, Going Fast at World Record Speed…

Filed under: ART,NEW ZEALAND,PHOTOGRAPHY,Places and Sights — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)


  1. I love how your blog doesn’t just show us all the usual touristy stuff. You share the historic details of a place, and it always makes it so much more interesting.

    Comment by Luddy's Lens — August 12, 2012 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Luddy!
      Of course sometimes we do the “tourist” stuff but most of all we like to get off the beaten track if we can.
      No matter what country you can always get a better feel of the flavour of the country, the wonderful eateries where the locals go and have brilliant contact with locals.
      In our experience it’s always so much more genuine than the tourist places that usher people though like numbers and money signs ticking over… I also find a lot of the ‘little things” quite interesting so like to share my finds. I’m delighted that you like them too!!!!

      Comment by kiwidutch — August 12, 2012 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

  2. It was probably the case then, that his ancestors were also fast, and that is why they were so named!!

    I love the statue.

    Comment by sarsm — August 14, 2012 @ 8:03 am | Reply

    • Thanks Sarsm!
      Genetics probably does have a lot of do with it so maybe the family name “Snell” had more than a little influence. (or did he just feel like he had to live up to his name?)
      I knew ALL about his fame of course, since he’s one of the most famous Kiwi’s ever (after Hillary) but it was a surprise to me that he hailed from this small town.

      Comment by kiwidutch — August 14, 2012 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

  3. He was a hero! We have had also one great hero called Paavo Nurmi.

    Comment by Sartenada — August 17, 2012 @ 5:27 am | Reply

    • Wow! The wiki article on Pavvo Nurmi was so amazing I read it from beginning to end. What a massive sporting hero and what a shame he was deemed a “professional”due to something stupid like travel costs. Seems like it was sour grapes and a vendetta against him to me. I didn’t know his name before but now I’m delighted to have learned about your national hero just as you have learned about one of mine… great men both of them.
      Pity they were generations apart, would have been VERY interesting to have seen them together in a race. Nurmi was clearly quite a character… being of so few words was still possible for athletes at the time but sadly wouldn’t go down so well these days with all the media attention, hype and expectations of interviews etc.

      Comment by kiwidutch — August 17, 2012 @ 9:09 pm | Reply

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