Former Olympic champion Peter Snell has hit out at his
native New Zealand for not taking better advantage of his
expertise after he ended his stellar career.
One of a host of great New Zealand middle distance runners
such as Jack Lovelock, John Walker and Murray Halberg, Snell
won the Olympic 800 metres title in Rome in 1960 and followed
up with a stunning double of 800 and 1,500 metres golds in
Tokyo four years later.
He set several world records before his retirement in 1965,
eventually moving to the United States where he earned a PhD
in exercise physiology before settling in Dallas, Texas.
Speaking at a news conference at the IAAF centenary
celebrations in Barcelona, Snell, who will be 74 next month
and was voted New Zealand's athlete of the century in 2000,
was asked why he ended up settling in the U.S. after
initially moving there to study.
"I was originally going to do an undergraduate degree and go
back to New Zealand and be a fitness consultant," he said.
"Then I got turned on to research and after seven years New
Zealand wasn't interested but the U.S. was and I got offered
a post-graduate fellowship in Dallas, got married to a Texan
and that was it.
"As far as New Zealand was concerned when they made me their
athlete of the 20th century they said well, why is he in the
"I said well, no one seemed interested in having my talents
in New Zealand."
Snell, who drew massive crowds when he raced at home, said he
was not the only successful sporting figure from New Zealand
to be neglected at home.
Yachtsman Russel Coutts had been through a similar experience
when he left to lead Switzerland's Alinghi to America's Cup
glory by beating Team New Zealand in 2003, he added.
"New Zealand is weird in that respect," Snell said.
"They admire the results but they don't want to help you out
professionally, they do it all the time.
"They did it to Russell Coutts, who then went to Switzerland
and took the Cup away. I loved that."
New Zealand suffered a slump in distance running after the
glory years of Snell and Walker and Snell said changes in
coaching trends had contributed.
"I think New Zealand runners got away from the coaching
methods that had proved successful," he said.
"The methods of my coach (Arthur Lydiard) were controversial,
distance running for middle-distance runners, and I think
some of the runners coming up felt it was old-fashioned.
"They weren't looking at the times apparently. I'm absolutely
sure that was the main reason."
He went on to reminisce about one of the greatest moments in
his career, overhauling Belgian Roger Moens to win 800 metres
gold in Rome in 1960 at the age of 21.
"I've spent quite a bit of time with Roger since and he
didn't consider me a serious threat, which I think was the
problem," Snell said.
"His mistake was running wide and he left room for me to come
on the inside," he added.
"The advantage I had in Rome was that I was a success just by
making the final.
"A medal would have been fantastic and of course it ended up
being gold, fantastic."