A temporary exhibition of Peter Snell memorabilia is a step on the way to reopening the Whanganui Regional Museum's Queens Park building.

The museum has been closed for a year for earthquake strengthening and will reopen in October 2018, director Frank Stark said.

On Thursday, November 9, the museum's pop-up premises in Ridgway St opened an exhibition of two of Sir Peter Snell's Olympic gold medals and other items on loan from Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.

"Peter Snell has a strong Whanganui connection because in 1962, in the middle of his purple patch of Olympic gold medal runs, he ran the world's fastest mile on the grass track at Cooks Gardens," Mr Stark said.

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"On that day, Whanganui was the focus of the athletics world. It was an extraordinary period for New Zealand athletics over the four years from 1960 to 1964, not just with Snell but also Murray Halberg and John Davies."

Snell remains the only New Zealand man to have won double gold medals at the same Olympic Games, a feat he achieved in the 800m and 1500m at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The items on display include Snell's 1960 Rome Olympic Games 800m gold medal which has some of the gilt worn away as so many fans touched it when he returned to New Zealand after the Olympics. His Tokyo Olympic Games 800m gold medal, the world record plaque for the fastest mile and the tankard for the mile world record set in Whanganui are also on loan from Te Papa.

Sir Peter Snell at the display with the items he donated to Te Papa in Wellington.
Sir Peter Snell at the display with the items he donated to Te Papa in Wellington.

They sit alongside the museum's own Peter Snell trophy which depicts the athlete alongside the shell casing from the starting gun that began his world record run at Cooks Gardens. Footage of Snell's races plays alongside the exhibit.

Mr Stark said the current exhibition will be on show until February 2018 and there would be more temporary exhibits before the museum reopens in Queens Park.

"One of the things we are aiming for with the earthquake strengthened building is a facility where we can have touring and loan exhibits. Previously, especially for environmental reasons, we didn't have spaces that met the standards and expectations of other institutions.

"During the next year we have to fit out and refurbish the spaces that have been strengthened and install exhibits in all of them."