The day the Ki­wis flew at the Olympics


‘‘Snell just left them in his wake ... tac­ti­cally he was the best in the world.’’

Septem­ber 2, 1960 - the day Sir Peter Snell shocked the world, dash­ing to golden glory in the bril­liant Ro­man sun­shine in front of 90,000 peo­ple.

Nearly 60 years on, the 1960 Olympic 800m gold medal­list has do­nated some of his mem­o­ra­bilia to a new Te Papa ex­hi­bi­tion, prompt­ing a Waikanae man to rem­i­nisce on one of New Zealand sport’s finest days.

Jim Wal­lace was a young jour­nal­ist on his OE at the time, work­ing for the New Zealand Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion and writ­ing for the Auckland Weekly News.

He watched me­tres away as Snell, a rank out­sider, set a new Olympic record, and won New Zealand’s first Olympic 800m gold medal.

‘‘Dis­play­ing ex­cel­lent tem­per­a­ment, shrewd judge­ment and crack­ing speed for one so young, Snell al­ways had the field well cov­ered ... just when it ap­peared that he might be boxed in, he saw an open­ing and was through to out­pace the world record­holder, Roger Moens of Bel­gium,’’ he wrote.

Look­ing back, he re­mem­bered it vividly.

‘‘Snell just left them in his wake ... tac­ti­cally he was the best in the world.’’

Snell, a 21-year-old sur­veyor at the time, was fol­lowed onto the dais less than an hour later by Sir Mur­ray Hal­berg, 27, a brewer’s chemist with a paral­ysed left arm, at the peak of his pow­ers.

Hal­berg was much more heav­ily favoured in the 5000m, and did not dis­ap­point, win­ning com­fort­ably.

The dou­ble Kiwi tri­umph was big news. Wal­lace said the over­seas press clam­oured to him for the good oil, and while stay­ing about a block from the Sta­dio Olimpico, he took on a pseudo- celebrity sta­tus.

‘‘The Ital­ians were ec­static over the New Zealan­ders. They’d say how great it was for our lit­tle coun­try in the South Pa­cific to pro­duce two world-class run­ners.

‘‘When the lo­cals found out I was a New Zealan­der and I knew Snell and Hal­berg, they’d come to me and want to talk.

‘‘For the whole du­ra­tion of the games I didn’t have to pay for break­fast.’’

Snell went on to win the 800m/1500m dou­ble at the Tokyo Olympics four years later.

His 14 do­nated items in­clude two of his gold medals, and a spe­cially-made right shoe he wore while win­ning gold in Rome.

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