Peter Snell, considered New Zealand‘s greatest runner of all time, has died. He was 80 years old.
The New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame confirmed the news, and reported that Snell passed away in his sleep while at his home in Dallas, Texas, where he lived with his wife, Miki Snell.
As one of the famous Olympians in his home country, Snell was born in the Taranaki on December 17, 1938, and a graduate of Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland. Training under Arthur Lydiard, Snell went on to win three gold medals: first in the 800 meters at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome, and then in both the 800 meters and 1500 meters at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964.
In 1962, Snell was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1965, Snell retired from competitive running, the same year he was made an Officer of the British Empire, and an autobiography of his life, No Bugles, No Drums, was published. In 1999, Snell was named Sportsman of the Century by the ALAC Sports Awards in Auckland. He is the only male since 1920 to have won the 800 meter-race and the 1500 meter-race at the same Olympics.
Here’s what you need to know about Peter Snell:
1. Snell Moved to America For His College Education
After retiring from the sport, Snell moved stateside where he earned a degree in sports physiology at the University of California at Davis, and then his Ph.D. in exercise physiology at Washington State University.
He moved to Texas after being offered a job at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Snell was honored as an inaugural member of the American College of Sports Medicine in 1999, and recognized as an international scholar.
2. He Became a Competitive Table Tennis Player at Age 75
Remaining active into old age, Snell competed in Texas in table tennis. He finished in the Top 4 in the 75 & older category, and competed in the 2017 World Masters Game back in his home country, New Zealand.
In 2012, after collapsing during a game of racquetball, and being diagnosed with non-ischaemic cardiomyopathy and fitted with an internal defibrillator to protect him against further life-threatening episodes, Snell described table tennis as “one of the few sports my weak heart will allow me to play.”
Prior to table tennis, the perennial competitor became a big fan of orienteering, which is a group of sports that requires navigational skills. Participants use a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and unfamiliar terrain, and Snell won his category for men 65 and older at the 2003 US Orienteering Championship. For a time, he served as the President of the North Texas Orienteering Association.
3. Snell Met His Wife Miki in Texas
Not surprisingly, Snell met his wife through running. Miki, a champion masters athlete, had met Snell’s coach, Arthur Lydiard, numerous times throughout the running camps her women’s track club sponsored in Dallas, and the legendary coach decided to invite Peter to Miki’s club’s 13 km run and dinner at a Mexican restaurant, where two felt instant chemistry.
“I was immediately attracted to her, and surreptitiously found out she was single and not in a steady relationship,” Peter reminisced in an interview with Now to Love in 2017. “A couple of weeks later, I took her to a Christmas dinner dance party and the rest is history. We had a lot of interests in common and whenever possible, I ran with her during workouts.”
On the secret to their lasting marriage Snell said, “We are fortunate to be on the same page in matters dealing with money, politics and religion. However, our common interest in sport and physical activity has been an important part of our lives.”
4. Snell Credited Getting Into Sports to His Athletic Parents & Had Two Daughters Of His Own
Snell told Runners World of his parents George and Margaret Snell, “I grew up in a sporting family. His mother played tennis, and his father golf.”
The star athlete also had two siblings, brother Jack Snell, and sister Marie Berry Snell. He had two daughters Amanda and Jacqui Snell, with his first wife, Sally, along with two granddaughters, Sam and Jodi Snell.
5. Snell Was in a Multi-Car Crash in November After Suffering a Heart Arrhythmia
Snell first developed heart problems in 2010, and a month ago, while on the way to a dentist appointment, he passed out while driving and crashed into numerous parked cars. He was not injured from the accident, and it was decided that an electrolyte imbalance caused him to pass out.
“He had too low potassium and it just really played with him badly and caused an arrhythmia,” Miki told Stuff, but that all signs were pointing to a full recovery.
“He’s feeling better. He’s had another blood test and all his numbers are looking good… He’s on a good path to feel a lot better and do better. He’s still a little panicked, because it was kind of a hard episode that he went through.”