The passing of New Zealand athletics great Sir Peter Snell in the US on Thursday sparks nostalgic emotions for many, but not just for his performances on the global stage of the Olympic Games.
His were the days when top New Zealand sports stars were often seen in the provinces, despite the constraints of amateurism — idols in our own back yard, including Hawke's Bay.
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Sir Peter raced several times on what were the grass tracks of Hawke's Bay at the height of his career, in both Hastings and Napier.
His most notable performance at the Highland Games, held in the 1960s each Easter at Windsor Park, Hastings, was in mid-April 1962, when there was no doubt who the crowd had come to see, among an array of stars in a range of sports.
He was at the peak of his form, having on January 27 broken the World Mile record at Cook's Gardens, and on February 3 both the 880 yards (half-mile) and 800 metres in the one race at Lancaster Park, Christchurch, all also on grass tracks.
Six weeks after winning in Hastings he was breaking the All-American Mile record on the cinders track at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and in November that year he was at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, winning the 880 yards and the Mile.
In 1964 he competed twice at McLean Park in Napier, in front of 8000 people at the Agfa Games international series meeting on the night of February 5, and about four weeks later when he won the 880yds title at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships.
Just seven months before his famed 800 metres (the metric near-equivalent of the 880yds) and 1500 metres double at the Tokyo Olympic Games, those national championships featured some of the most successful athletes in the history of New Zealand track and field.
They included championships mile-winner and Tokyo 1500m bronze medalist John Davies, 1956 Olympic Games road-walk champion Norman Reid, multiple World women's record-breaking runner Marise Chamberlain, five-times Commonwealth Games throwing events gold medalist Val Young (nee Soper), Empire and Commonwealth Games long jump and triple jump place-medal winner Dave Norris, and World 20km and one-hour record-breaker Bill Baillie, who in 1958 had introduced a then tennis-champion and non-runner Snell to eventual coach Arthur Lydiard in 1958.
Snell would be back in Hawke's Bay several more times, in particular with the Rothmans Sports Foundation coaching team, with such others as trainer Lydiard, All Blacks rugby great Don "The Boot" Clarke, and cricketer Bert Sutcliffe.
Few towns seemed too small for this troupe, for as well as Napier and Hastings, such places as Waipukurau were on the schedule as the group visited schools and coached the up-and-coming youngsters and teenagers, Snell at both athletics and tennis.