Sir Peter Snell: An Olympic champion and a nice guy to share a beer with
MIKI SNELL / FACEBOOK
Peter Snell baked a Christmas cake at his home in Dallas last year.
OPINION: Most people will remember Sir Peter Snell for his historic gusts in Rome and Tokyo and world records in Whanganui, Christchurch and Auckland.
I will remember him from the day I sat on his back porch sharing a beer and talking about the weather, politics, gardening – anything but running.
Peter lived about a mile from my wife Debbie (New Zealand 10,000m runner at the 1986 Commonwealth Games) and me in a modest house one block from my trainer Robert Vaughan in Dallas, TX. We saw him at orienteering races; he once protected me from my young sons after I fell head first on a rock and left a bloody gash above my eye.
Peter and his wife Miki organized an orienteering race in town from their home. Inside, he displayed his Olympic medals and various cups.
* Snell much more than a leading Kiwi
* Peter Snell our greatest athlete of the Olympic Games
* Snell let New Zealand bulge their breasts globally
* Our greatest Olympian and a humble New Zealander
* Ours: Treasures of Te Papa – Pauline Cowens and the Snell shoe
He was proud, but I knew people who bragged more about their bowling trophies. Lunch with Peter, Robert and Arthur Lydiard was more of a good conversation with friends than a summit of remote coaching.
Peter accepted my request to speak at my University of North Texas distance running camp, drove an hour to Denton, gave a wonderful speech to my runners, showed them his medals and refused to take a dime – even for its essence. I heard he laughed when he received a $ 50 meal voucher in the mail as a thank you for his efforts.
He and Miki came to our apartment in Dallas for Debbie’s Waitangi Day celebration. They sat with us on a friend’s couch and watched Lorraine Moller win the bronze medal in the women’s Olympic marathon in Barcelona.
They came to our house in McKinney, Texas, and Peter listened intently to my father-in-law talk about driving a school bus in Hamilton.
They attended our “Good Riddance, Lautenslagers” party a week before our move to New Zealand, and a few years later they visited Luke’s Locker for the book dedication of my Follow the Flame launch tour. Peter bought a book and then emailed me to find out which part of my semi-autobiographical novel was true and how my sons’ race was going.
Debbie and I last saw Peter two years ago on a surprise visit while in Dallas. They had just returned from a table tennis tournament, where he was victorious. As always, we had a great conversation and he was still looking at us with his cheerful little smile.
My lasting memory of Peter will one day be at White Rock Lake in Dallas watching Peter run away. He was in his sixties and he wasn’t going too fast. But the shape was the same, that springy and powerful stride was no different from the one he used to crush everyone in the world.
He was an Olympic champion, but to me and everyone else that day he was just another good ol ‘dude on his afternoon walk.
* Greg Lautenslager, former writer for the Dallas Morning News and the Nelson Mail, is the coach / director of the National Academy of Distance Running in Nelson.