Peter Snell was unquestionably New Zealand's greatest track and field exponent and arguably the greatest athlete this country has produced in any sport.
But if you asked him what his greatest achievement in life was, he'd skip the drawer where he keeps his many medals and point to the doctorate on the wall. Snell was a beautifully proportioned athlete who overpowered all those on the track with him, but who wanted to be remembered for his mind as much as his legs.
Snell's sporting legacy is brilliant and uncomplicated; his relationship with his country not quite as much.
Snell, who died at his home in Dallas yesterday, was a spectacular middle-distance runner and a poster-child, though an occasionally unruly one, for coach Arthur Lydiard's famed endurance methods.
Unbeaten across two Olympic and one Commonwealth Games, Snell was a king of the track. Away from the sport, he could never find what he was looking for in New Zealand, eventually settling into academic life in California and Texas.
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There was always a lingering resentment from Snell about the lack of opportunities his home country afforded him and some of that might have been justified, but it's also true that Snell and public life were never an easy fit.
Intense and curious, Snell was a good interview in one-on-one situations, where he could take stock and give considered answers. He never wanted to leave room for ambiguity in his quotes and was not one for the flippant or facile cliché that is the lingua franca of the modern athlete.
He was never cut out to be the garrulous after-dinner speaker a la the other superstar of his generation, Colin Meads, who would expertly trade on the same dressing room anecdotes for laughs night after night at clubrooms and $200-a-head functions across the country.
Rugby was religion in the 1960s but Snell was as big as any All Black and the story of how he emerged from being a keen tennis player who ran to stay fit to a three-time Olympic champion was as celebrated as any test series victory against the Boks.
It was winning the 800m in Rome as a callow 21-year-old that catapulted Snell into rarefied air. Column inches that were reserved for rugby were suddenly being expended on a shy runner who had arrived in Auckland in his late teens after growing up in the relative boondocks of Taranaki and Waikato.
It was a remarkable performance because it went against the carefully constructed plan Lydiard had put in place. Rather than set the pace up front, Snell felt he didn't "have it" and drifted to the back of the field. He wrote off his chances of winning a medal when he was fifth in a six-man field on the back straight on the final lap.
As he ran the final bend he noticed that the rest of the field was not pulling away. If anything, they were slowing down. He would later say this "energised" him as he pounced on the opening.
The footage of that final straight still dazzles today. It should be compulsory viewing for every New Zealand child as it demonstrates perfectly the fine margins of sporting success and failure.
There was Snell on the inside, now freed from any chains of expectation chasing hot favourite Roger Moens. The Belgian looks left not once, twice, thrice but four times, as he senses the presence of an interloper. His face contorts in agonised rictus as he realises the kid in the all black singlet was going to steal his gold.
In the infield Snell, who didn't initially know whether he had won, flops around aimlessly. There was no practiced celebration; he clearly has no idea how he is meant to react. For a minute or two he is the farmer with two left feet who is suddenly dragged up to the dance floor at his niece's wedding.
Moens, in contrast, knows precisely what to feel: he buries his face in his tracksuit while lying prone, unable to process the improbable.
"Winning the gold medal in Rome changed my life. I was just a run-of-the-mill runner who made the New Zealand team," Snell would later tell the IAAF website.
There had been criticism of his selection. Lydiard was not everybody's cup of electrolytes, and as a result, some asked whether New Zealand really needed to send one of his protégés ranked a mere 25th in the world?
When recalling this critique, Snell's wry and ever-so-dry humour shone through.
"I came back with the gold medal and I've been the excuse for all sorts of mediocre selections since," he quipped.
Running races was something Snell was extraordinarily good at, yet not all-consumed by in the way Lydiard was.
Their relationship had its peak in Rome and was followed by a deep trough before they patched things up after Snell's career had ended.
Snell recognised Lydiard's iconoclastic genius yet chafed at the coach's willingness to take the lion's share of the credit for his athletes' successes.
In the excellent book No Bugles, No Drums, Snell says: "Arthur and I got on well together until we grew out of the exact master-pupil relationship with which we began."
That quote succinctly sums up their relationship but it also reveals a lot about Snell, the man.
His quest for personal growth always loomed large over everything he did.
He had a thirst for knowledge and a desire to prove that he was more than an athlete; that he had something to offer once he stopped running.
Like other prominent sportsmen of the day – Bert Sutcliffe and Don Clarke to name two - he was employed by tobacco company Rothman's to run sports clinics around the country. The work was easy and the pay was decent but it was never enough for Snell.
"I redefined myself at the age of 34," he said.
He did that by enrolling as a freshman at UC Davis and completed a four-year degree in three years. He also appeared on the made-for-TV sports spectacle Superstars, which earned him money to fund his doctorate in exercise physiology.
"There wasn't an opportunity to return to New Zealand but there was an offer of a post-doctoral fellowship in Dallas, so I moved there," he once said matter-of-factly.
He had also met his second wife Mika.
Snell would come back to New Zealand regularly enough, and would oblige reporters and their notepads but it was never hard to sense Snell's frustration over the fact there was nothing for him here when he wanted to return as a fitness consultant following his studies.
It was clear he felt New Zealand had rejected him professionally. He once even called it "weird".
Others who sympathise might have even called it New Zealand's mythical tall-poppy syndrome in action.
It probably wasn't anything of the sort. New Zealand loved Peter Snell; we just didn't have all the tools we needed to show him how much.
In the interview with the IAAF, Snell said: "If you want to talk about legacy, I was the one who showed that the 800m was an endurance event."
That's seriously underselling it.
He was a God-like presence on the track. He was our greatest.