Barry Soper: Even the auctioneer would have been gobsmacked

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Peter Snell takes gold during the 1500m event at Tokyo. Photo / Herald Archive
Peter Snell takes gold during the 1500m event at Tokyo. Photo / Herald Archive

Never in his wildest dreams did Peter Snell ever think the black singlet he wore when he won double Olympic gold medals in Tokyo more than half a century ago would have sold for the $50,000 they were touting as the upper price it could fetch at auction.

Snell was quoted from his United States home as saying that would have been ridiculous. In fact he said he'd once accused his ex-wife of dumping it before she went to California to join him. He reckoned it was probably worth a couple of hundred bucks.

He didn't know what became of the singlet and suspected he'd probably given it away to some charity, along with other stuff he'd been asked to donate over the years.

Even the Auckland auctioneer would have been gobsmacked as he announced it was going, going, gone for more than $120,000.

And it wasn't even a super rich Auckland property speculator that raised his hand, it was in effect the taxpayer. Te Papa, our national museum in the capital, bought the singlet encased in glass with photographs of the 800 and 1500 metre golden performances, a feat never repeated at any Olympic Games since.

Political sports fan Winston Peters, who'd called for the Government to buy the singlet a few days ago, was so overjoyed he bashed out a press release that contained something of a Freudian slip, calling it Peters Snell's singlet, before correcting the Christian name to the singular.

Certainly the greater than expected price got me thinking about a bit of memorabilia I had in my possession more than 20 years ago.

I was honoured to cover Nelson Mandela's inauguration back in 1994 and somehow our then Prime Minister Jim Bolger became one of only five leaders to formally meet with the new President the following day.



I was clutching Mandela's gilt edged inauguration address which conveniently had two white facing pages and after warning Bolger I was going in for an autograph after Fidel Castro finished his meeting, the score was made.

Mandela not only signed it, including his birth name Rolihlahla, but dated it as well. Any other leader seeing him that day would have been unlikely to ask for an autograph and CanTeen, the teenage cancer support group in this country, got four and a half grand after it was auctioned for them on my return.

The photo of him signing it for me was reward enough but I have wondered what it would be worth today.

Probably about the same as Snell's running shoes, or even his jock strap - the hunt is on!

- Newstalk ZB

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