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The Peter Snell Institute of Sport in Auckland has shut its doors for the final time, falling victim to over-ambition and the worldwide economic recession.

The institute was established in 2000 by a group of friends and enthusiasts, including New Zealand running legend Snell.

Others included the late former international athlete and Auckland mayor (1980-83) Colin Kay, Don Rowlands (rowing) and Allison Roe. They aspired to help identify and develop those who might become world-class athletes in Olympic and Commonwealth Games sports.

The institute's demise comes just months after it experienced its finest moments when 18 "alumni", including Valerie Vili (women's shot put gold medal), Tom Ashley (boardsailing gold medal), and Nick Willis (1500m running bronze), make their mark at the Beijing Olympics.

Others were sprinter James Dolphin, cyclists Sam Bewley (bronze medal team pursuit), Sarah Walker, Tim Gudsell and Peter Latham, rowers Emma Twigg and Nathan Cohen, sailors Jo Aleh, Carl Evans and Peter Burling and swimmers Lauren Boyle, Mark Herring, Glenn Snyders and Corney Swanepoel.

Another athlete on its books, Marina Erakovic, made the top 50 in the world women's tennis rankings last year.

"Its closure is disappointing because a lot of us made a lot of effort to support the institute," Snell said.

He strongly identified with the institute's talent identification operation.

"That was all anchored in my own experience - at 17, I was third-ranked in the 880 yards and mile at Mt Albert Grammar School but four years later, I won Olympic gold.

"My belief was I didn't know I had the talent for running but with the right sort of testing and evaluation of physical abilities, it could have been spotted - it was only chance circumstances that made my career possible. My thought was that there are probably a lot of kids around that had talent but didn't know it.

"I am proud of the institute's work - I am not going to claim we made [sports] careers possible but we did help along the way.

"It is all about funding and being able to secure that - the current economic times made it even more difficult to contribute and a few of us were getting burned out by the fund-raising dinners."

Garth Gilmour, a trustee, said the institute had overextended itself at the beginning of the downturn of financial support and had been unable to tap into new sources.

It had tried to expand too quickly, aiming at funding up to 190 sportspeople. At about $3000 each annually, that proved too much and "the whole thing collapsed in a heap".

Twenty to 30 would have been a more realistic number, he said. "It is a pity because we had just acquired new equipment to carry out the talent identification programme on a wider scale."

- NZPA