Peter Snell denies bitterness

By Terry Maddaford

US-based Olympic great says he's still proud to call New Zealand his homeland.

Sir Peter Snell, who lives in the US, won the Olympic 800m title in Rome in 1960 and the 800m and 1500m double in Tokyo in 1964. Photo / Herald File
Sir Peter Snell, who lives in the US, won the Olympic 800m title in Rome in 1960 and the 800m and 1500m double in Tokyo in 1964. Photo / Herald File

Sir Peter Snell says he is honoured by the high esteem in which he is held in New Zealand despite recent comments which led to suggestions he is resentful over his treatment by some in this country.

In an email, he said although he might have been frustrated and disappointed in the past, "I have long gotten over it".

Speaking in Barcelona last weekend, Sir Peter was asked why he settled in the United States after moving there to study.

"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 US?'

"I said, 'Well, no one seemed interested in having my talents in New Zealand'."

Sir Peter compared his treatment to that of yachtsman Sir Russell Coutts when he left to lead Switzerland's Alinghi to America's Cup glory in 2003.

A Herald editorial on Tuesday described Snell's lasting resentment as "deeply sad".

Responding to that comment, Sir Peter said: "Firstly, I am very honoured by and grateful for the high esteem in which I am held by many New Zealanders. I regret that they might be offended by my off-the-cuff remarks in Barcelona, which were not provoked by bitterness."

Regarding the treatment of Sir Russell, he said: "This episode reminds me of the days when athletics were run by powerful administrators who exuded self-importance, not understanding or appreciating the sacrifices made by athletes and coaches to produce world-class results.

"There are consequences from the myopia of such officials. The most dramatic example of this was the capitulation of the NZ America's Cup syndicate that led to Russell Coutts' taking the cup for Switzerland."

Sir Peter said he was merely trying to answer the questions of journalists as truthfully as possible.

"I do not harbour a 40-year-old grudge and do not feel that NZ owes me a living.

"I have enjoyed a very satisfying career here in Dallas and am still working at the age of 73. What I regret is that as a young man I did not have the opportunity to develop skills that would have led to a satisfying career in NZ.

"I truly miss having the opportunity to make a favourable impact on NZ society. I often feel that I could have made a difference in the lives of many New Zealanders, especially in exercise and its health-related benefits, had I been there."

Sir Peter said he felt very proud that among such elite company in Barcelona, he was representing the outstanding NZ middle and distance-running heritage.

"I was incredibly honoured to represent New Zealand at the IAAF ceremonies," he said. "I continue to be proud to call New Zealand my homeland."

Sir Peter won the Olympic 800m title in Rome in 1960 and the 800m and 1500m golds in Tokyo four years later.

- NZ Herald

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