Snell draws on past lessons in new life
By John Mehaffey
LONDON, March 5 (Reuters) - In one sense the journey taken by Peter Snell since the triple Olympic champion retired in 1965 is a reappraisal of his past from the perspective offered by time, maturity and distance.
Now in his 70th year, the best middle-distance runner of his era and the man voted New Zealand's greatest athlete
Through hard thought, wide reading and dogged trial and error, Lydiard concluded that marathon-type training schedules would transform middle-distance running.
To widespread scepticism which lingers today, Lydiard determined that a weekly total of 100 miles (160 kms) was the ideal during the winter conditioning period. The week's work included a 22-mile Sunday run through the Waitakere mountains, only four miles short of a full marathon.
The results spoke for themselves.
Snell emerged from nowhere to win the 1960 Rome Olympic 800 metres title, broke the world mile, 1,500 and 800 metres records on grass tracks and at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics strode majestically to the 800-1,500 double.
In Rome, Murray Halberg won the 5,000 within an hour of Snell's triumph and Barry Magee finished third in the marathon. The New Zealand trio were ranked first in the world at 800, 5,000 and 10,000 metres respectively in 1961.
According to contemporary reports, Lydiard was beset by the world's media plus curious coaches in Rome asking what talent-spotting system was responsible for producing such results from a country of little more than three million people.
They are just a group of runners from my Auckland suburb, Lydiard replied.
"That's right," Snell confirmed in a telephone interview with Reuters. "I wasn't from his suburb in Auckland, I ended up being there. And I was attracted by the results he was getting."
Snell said critics of Lydiard argued that moderate pace distance running would result in middle-distance runners losing their speed.
"That apparently is the case but it's a short-term thing. You have to be patient and eventually you regain your speed after a relatively short period of sprint-type training," he said.
"I believe Lydiard had it right scientifically and I could argue that with anyone. A relatively small country had quite outstanding success, not just a couple of people but a fairly large number of individuals.
"It doesn't seem too much different from the success of the Kenyan runners does it? I like to think conditions in Kenya were what it was like in New Zealand 40 years ago.
"You didn't have too many avenues for achievement. If you weren't a rugby player, you weren't much at all."
Snell was the outstanding individual in the Lydiard stable, a fine all-round sportsman whose powerful physique appeared ungainly early in a race but made him unstoppable when he accelerated.
After retirement, Snell sought other challenges, opting at the age of 34 to change countries and become an academic.
Today, his aim is to demonstrate personally that daily exercise can delay if not halt the ageing process and relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
"I'm passionate about that," he said. "That is what I am looking forward to showing that I can still be in good shape as I get older without going overboard on the exercise.
"A lot of older people just don't understand what they can do to make things better. I am also motivated by my own sort of mortality. I want to be able to go through life being able to function at a reasonably high level of energy and be physically independent until I die.
"I hope that helps demonstrate to other people when they look at me and say he's just lucky, he got the right sort of genes and that is why he can still be as active as he is at 70.
"But I don't believe it's that at all. I believe it's all about lifestyle, and particularly exercise." (Editing by Clare Fallon)of the 20th century is a distinguished sports scientist based in Dallas.
Part of his research has involved confirming a scientific basis for the revolutionary training methods devised half a century ago by the remarkable Auckland milkman and shoe manufacturer Arthur Lydiard.