….And R.I.P., Sir Peter Snell
Dec. 12, 2020 — Is it a coincident that, the day after (and 15 years later) the Master Coach passed way, his greatest protégé passed away…? I usually prefer remembering one’s birthday — the day they had come to our world — instead of the day they left us. Peter Snell missed his 81st birthday by mere 5-days.
Without doubt, Peter Snell was the greatest “product” of Lydiard training system. He won 3 Olympic gold medals; 2 Empire Games (=Commonwealth Games) gold medals — 100% winning rate for championship races. And 8 world records, including 2 indoor records and a relay. But actually that is only half of the story of Peter Snell. After he retired from athletics, at the age of 34, he entered university in America and started the academic career. When he was younger, it was that he was a jock and his older brother was a scholar. Peter didn’t pass the entrance exam for university back in New Zealand so he was a high school graduate. Now he started studying exercise physiology, trying to figure out why what he did as an athlete worked. When I founded Five Circles in 2001, I invited Peter to come to Minnesota to have a Lydiard clinic. As I was to make an introduction, Peter wanted to make sure I cover his academic achievement as well; not just his athletic resume. “It’s never too late to learn” was his message.
I had a great pleasure to travel around Japan with Peter and Miki in 2008. I always wanted to bring him to Japan to conduct a Lydiard clinic. When I approached “Japan Running Academy”, they loved the idea because “middle distance” is the weak link for Japanese athletics!! And Peter loved the idea because he hadn’t been back to Japan since his double gold medal at 1964 Tokyo Olympics and, while Miki had been “stopped-over” in Japan before during her days as a flight attendant, she had never actually “visited” Japan and Peter always wanted to take her there. So this was a perfect-storm win-win-win situation!! We lined up 3 Lydiard clinics; one in Osaka, one in Tokyo and one in Gunma — the site of Japan Running Academy’s annual meeting. In between, I scheduled a couple of free days in Kyoto. It was in April and the hight of cherry blossom season. We hit most of main sight-seeing spots in Kyoto and, being an avid photographer, Peter thoroughly enjoyed the experience with Miki. While in Kyoto, I received a call — it was from a secretary of New Zealand Counsel General in Tokyo!! This was his opportunity; he was determined to meet with this Kiwi Legend!! Of course, Peter was pretty cool about it. In fact, at the Kyoto JR (=Japan Railway) station, waiting for our bullet train; a family from New Zealand bumped into us. I think it was something Peter/Miki had that suggested New Zealand and they started talking…. I’m sort of enjoying the situation but Peter gave me a gesture not to even bother letting them know who they were talking to. As the running legend (or New Zealand Sportsman of the Century), he sure was quite humble and very down-to-earth. On the final evening, after 3 Lydiard clinics, I offered that I’d take them out for some nice dinner; maybe Kobe beef steak or sukiyaki or tempura or sushi dinner??? “Those are too expensive!!” Peter insisted. “I’d like to have pizza at the hotel restaurant…”. So that’s what we had.
The third clinic was at Gunma University Campus as a part of Japan Running Academy’s annual meeting. We had a full capacity of almost 200 people attended. Interestingly, the coach of the 74th Fukuoka International Marathon (contested just a week ago) winner, Coach Hanada, at the time the coach of Jobu University team, brought a dozen of his runners to attend!! Yes, he is a big time Lydiard coach!! Peter explained why Lydiard System works as a stand-point of Ph D exercise physiologist. It was 44 years since Peter was in Japan for Tokyo Olympic Games. And Japan was about to get ready for 2020 Tokyo Olympics (we didn’t know at that time however…. In fact, Peter’s Tokyo clinic was in conjunction with promoting 2020 Tokyo Olympics). Japanese running enthusiasts remember the impressive double-gold medal performance of Snell. His style of hanging back until the final 200m and, coming up from nowhere to sprint past his rivals was nicknamed as “Ninja-style” of running (and winning). He also ran the world indoor record for 800m on the wooden board track in Japan in 1962. HERE is a rare video clip of that race (although the actual running is not included unfortunately).
As the 1 year anniversary of his passing is coming around, Japan Running Academy had written a tribute to this legendary runner in their quarterly magazine. They wanted a photo of him from the 2008 lecture tour and wanted me to proof-read the draft. I had suggested to create a scholarship named after Peter to be presented to a high school or college runner with outstanding academic record. That would be a very appropriate tribute to the man with outstanding athletic records as well as academic resume. Without doubt, Peter was very proud of his academic achievements. But also without doubt, his athletic achievements were head-and-shoulders above other athletes of the era. In 1996 at Atlanta Olympic Games, Los Angeles Times brought in 20 world leading Track & Field experts, both coaches and the press, and ran the “Dream Race” for 800m that would include every Olympic Champions and world record holders of the 20th century. All 20 selected Peter Snell as the winner. Here’s to the greatest 800m runner — and, according to his Master Coach, Arthur Lydiard, probably would have been the greatest miler the world would have ever seen had there been enough incentive at the time for him to continue training and competing 5 more years — in the 20th century: Peter Snell. — Nobby Hashizume