Rod Dixon has tears running down his cheeks. Fresh from winning the New York marathon, he's just seen a scratchy black and white movie of Peter Snell leaving the rest of the field in the 1500m final at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games behind as if they were average club runners.
It's 1980, and Dixon is in Rarotonga for a foot race around the island the next day. The Snell film has been provided as entertainment for the runners.
Dixon, himself an Olympic 1500m bronze medalist in 1972, is spellbound and emotional. "I've never seen that footage before," he says. "My God, the guy's amazing."
I don't believe there has ever been a more gifted New Zealand sportsperson than Peter Snell.
When he sprinted down the back straight in Tokyo his strides were so powerful he dug holes in the cinder track. The late John Davies used to tell, still with a sense of awe, of how he and Czech Josef Odlozil finished the race, Odlozil second and Davies third, with red cinders splattered over the front of their singlets.
"There were these twin plumes that came up above waist high with every step Peter took."
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The first time I met Peter Snell it was getting his autograph as a star-struck schoolkid, two days before my 15th birthday, when I'd hitchhiked from Waihi to Hamilton to see an international meet at Seddon Park. I still have the programme in which I've written all the results in ballpoint.
That's how I know that on a grass track Snell won the 880 yards race in 1m 47.1s, just 0.3s outside the world record, then held by American Tom Courtney.
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Three nights later, in Wanganui, Snell would run the mile in 3m 54.4s to set a new world record, and a week after Wanganui, he'd set a new 880 yards world record at Lancaster Park of 1m 45.1s.
At the Tokyo Olympics, he won not only the 1500m but also the 800m. A famous quote of the time was from a German journalist in the stand, who exclaimed: "This is not a runner. This is a god."
In November 1964, in front of a sell-out crowd at Western Springs in Auckland, Snell broke his last world record, running the mile in 3m 54.1s. And then, in 1965, just 26 years old, he announced his retirement. He had, he said, other challenges, in the academic world.
How good was Snell in his prime? John Davies, never a man who dwelt in the past, swore to me that running on artificial surface tracks gave a runner a one second per 400m lap advantage. "So you do the maths," John said, "and you see that Snell could have broken 3m 50s for the mile in the 1960s."
There was also a cast-iron competitive temperament, masked by a self-effacing manner. Snell was careful to never appear too confident in public while he was running. He was very conscious, he later told me, that in 1960s New Zealand, the ultimate sin was to appear cocky. That's why All Blacks jogged back after scoring a try as if a parent had just died.
Long after retiring, he'd become uneasy, almost embarrassed, if quizzed about his own career, especially about how much self-belief he carried into races. But common sense said he had to have been privately aware of the gifts he brought to the track.
So late in the 1970s, I was fascinated, but not really surprised, to hear Olympic thrower Val Young tell a revealing story about what a 21-year-old Snell was actually thinking on the way to the 800m final at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Young was in a van with Snell and Murray Halberg. All had finals. Young the shot, Halberg the 5000m, and Snell the 800.
Young asked her companions how they were feeling. Halberg confessed to being very nervous. Initially Snell didn't answer, so Young asked him again. "Sorry," he said, "I wasn't really concentrating. I was just wondering whether the field will run fast enough for me to break the Games record." (It did. Snell's winning time of 1m 46.48s broke Tom Courtney's record by over a second).
Snell, the person, took time to know. In 1974. at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, Auckland Star management struck a deal for him to write a lengthy daily column for the paper, and I was given the job as Snell's ghostwriter. As I discovered from the first day, Peter wasn't a man who ever voiced a facile opinion.
At first, I wondered what the hell I'd got myself into. The first column took five hours, and I couldn't see any way we could speed up the process. Peter was so careful with his words, I joked I was scared to greet him by asking how he was because he'd probably reply, "Do you mean mentally, physically, or spiritually?"
Our work rate never got faster, but I came to appreciate the depth Snell brought to the table, and the more we got to know each other, the more I liked him. He was serious when discussing what to write, but had a streak of schoolboy humour in him, too. If there was even a suggestion we had enough time for it, work would stop so he could laugh until he cried at Roadrunner cartoons on TV.
The nearest I saw to a flash of the competitive fire in Snell came when we watched the stunning, record-breaking final of the 1500m in Christchurch, when Filbert Bayi led from start to finish, breaking the world record in the process. Like everyone in the crowd, Snell was thrilled by the race. In his own career, he had never had a man like Bayi, so good he could win and set records while running from the front.
I had to ask him, "How do you think you would have gone against Bayi?"
Eyes still gleaming, he immediately replied, "Well, I know this. I would have been on his shoulder at the bell."
I never sensed a hint of regret he'd stopped his athletics career when he did. The scientific work he was doing would eventually take him to a distinguished career at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He was never more enthusiastic than when he was discussing his academic life. I carried a small bruise for a couple of days when he gleefully demonstrated a body fat pinch test on my leg.
Snell made no secret over the years that he laboured in his younger years with a feeling of inadequacy after failing to gain University Entrance while in high school. When our paths occasionally crossed after 1974, it was obvious he'd found his calling in life.
As with his work in academia, it was always clear that his 1983 marriage to his American wife Miki brought him enormous joy. Vivacious and outgoing, she would happily say he was the love of her life.
Seeing them together was a lovely reminder that happy endings can happen in real life as well as in a movie.