Sir Peter Snell reflects on his career

Sir Peter Snell running in the 800m race at the Tokyo Olympics (Dunedin Sports Hall of Fame)
Sir Peter Snell running in the 800m race at the Tokyo Olympics (Dunedin Sports Hall of Fame)

Olympian Sir Peter Snell talks to Newshub about his career and putting his (potentially) $50,000 singlet up for auction.

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Sir Peter Snell's singlet from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is up for auction on June 21. He doesn't know what will happen to it after the auction, but hopes it will end up at the Ron Palenski Sports Hall of Fame museum in Dunedin, where his medals will go.

Newshub's Emma Joliff spoke to the 77-year-old, who has lived in Dallas, Texas for the past 30 years.

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What do you make of your winning Olympic singlet being auctioned, and suggestions it could fetch up to $50,000?

"It was a nice surprise it was found, but then it was a huge surprise what someone thought it was worth and the guy that called me, I'm sure, was almost salivating over it.

"I'm very surprised that a) someone found it -- I have no idea how it got to where it did, because I don't remember giving it up. I thought my wife might have but she says she didn't; b) I can't believe how much someone thinks it may be worth, I don't think they're going to get anything like that; and c) it's too bad that some enterprising individual profits and not the charity for which is was originally intended."

That charity was the Peter Snell Institute of Sport, which closed its doors in 2009.

"Fifty thousand dollars is huge, and totally unrealistic in my mind."

So if you don't remember, do you question the authenticity of the claim that it's yours?

"No. I had a call from a gentleman who currently owns it and his main concern it seems was that it was authentic. He sent me a photograph of it framed, it looks right, it's got the right number, it's appropriately worn and has my name tag inside it, so if it's a fake it would be a very elaborate one.

"I received a lot of requests for memorabilia, particularly apparel, but I don't know why I would have given that one away because of all the things I had, that may have been the most memorable for me. I have no New Zealand tracksuits left, no New Zealand blazers left, it's all somewhere in New Zealand."

Sir Peter says the owner's selling it now because "clearly he wants to make good on his investment, whatever that was. He didn't share with me how he got it, or how much he paid for it."

"This is all very American to me, what's going on with this singlet. I've always thought the whole memorabilia thing here, with baseball etc, was very amusing. It's not as important in New Zealand."

How much do you think the singlet's worth?

"A couple of hundred, maybe. This is New Zealand, it's not the US. Unless New Zealanders have got too much money now."

Newshub spoke to Sir Peter just as he was heading off to play table tennis, which he says he's not as good at as he was at running.

"I get beat up by the Chinese. I'm okay against most Caucasians of my age, the Chinese are just too tough."

What's your overarching memory of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics?

"It was an opportunity for me to confirm that I was the best middle-distance runner of the time. It didn't last very long, I just snuck in in time to achieve that.

"It was a lot of fun being able to run six races in eight days and win both medals"

Sir Peter won the 800m and 1500m races.

"It's more meaningful coming from a small country where the expectations have been somewhat low because of our size, so that makes it a lot of fun when you can actually kick butt against Americans and Russians who've got bigger resources than we had to get prepared and do the training."

What do you put your success down to, why were you such a great runner?

"I didn't know I was. At 17 at Mt Albert Grammar I came third in the 880 yards, and the mile for that matter, an event that four years later I had the gold medal in.

"The glory sport, as we all know in New Zealand, is rugby, so I played rugby. Forgive me for saying this, but running was for people who weren't successful at ball skills.

"Then I came to appreciate what could be done by hard training, which was courtesy of Arthur Lydiard. He really opened my eyes to the amazing effects of dedication to regular distance training."

Sir Peter was 19 when he started doing that sort of work and it took two years to pay off, "which was relatively short".

He worked full-time while he trained, first in a quantity surveyor's office.

"[I was] on a miserable salary, I couldn't afford to get married, then I succumbed to an offer to work for a tobacco company, who was prepared to pay me much more than I was getting.

"It's something I'm not that proud of but it was as a result of that job that I discovered my academic capabilities, which I wouldn't have predicted given my exam performance at Mt Albert Grammar.

"It's too bad that people make judgments about your capability so early in life. If people made judgments about my running ability at 17 it wouldn't have been that good, and certainly academically it would have been pathetic."

Sir Peter was 22 when he won in Rome and 25 at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

"Now I find myself with three Olympic gold medals, a PhD and a professorship at a prestigious university, so things can change."

Newshub. 

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