Athletics: Sir Peter Snell's remembered by those he inspired

Sir Peter Snell is being remembered as New Zealand's greatest Olympian following his death on Friday. 

Many of today's athletes have been inspired by what he did on the racetrack, few could dream of matching the sporting legend of Sir Peter Snell.

"He was like an All Black, he was like a Richie McCaw or Dan Carter," New Zealand sports commentator Brendan Telfer told Newshub.  

"That was the colossal kind of public image he had in the 1960s, winning three gold medals in high profile events at the Olympic games."

He was so famous he was forced to move to the United States.

"He craved anonymity and he couldn't have it in New Zealand, even when he came back for visits," Telfer said. 

His legacy starting at the Rome Olympics in 1960 in the 800 metres where he claimed the gold medal, four years later in Tokyo Sir Peter defended his Olympic title.

He then went on to do the unthinkable, winning gold in the 1500m race. 

Rare physical talents set him apart from other athletes. 

"He had the ability very few athletes in the sport have ever had. 

"He had the ability to win 800-metre races because he had this brilliant sprint," Telfer added.

"He could unleash a couple of hundred metres from home, but he also has a lot of strength and power if you're a middle-distance runner like a 1500 metres runner."

He remains the only athlete since 1920 to have won the Olympic middle-distance double while his intense training under coach Arthur Lydiard revolutionised running.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chairman Mike Stanley believes Snell laid the groundwork for the middle distance glory that's defined kiwi athletics.

"I think what he did was to give everyone the interest in the sport of athletics but also the confidence that New Zealanders can go and dominate these races on the world stage," Stanley said. 

Those inspired by Snell include Olympic 1500 silver medallist Nick Willis who read his biography as a child.

"Hearing about him growing up in Opunake and playing other sports then discovering running and going through the struggles of learning endurance training I sort of saw myself," Willis said.

" [I] saw how it was possible to come from a small town in New Zealand and take on the world, it lit a fire in me."

"I was 14, we went down to the hotel in Nelson and waited outside for two and a half hours waiting for them to come out and get their autograph," former Kiwi runner Rod Dixon said. 

"I used to remind Peter [Snell] of that story, he often looked at me and said 'why you looking at me Dixon' and I said because you're my hero."

In 2000 Snell was voted New Zealand athlete of the century..

"He was virtually unbeatable," Telfer said.