John Davies loved to run.

From Tokoroa's forests to the great stadiums of the world, he was a competitor. And a lot more.

Long before his sport became truly professional, Davies was a pro. And he was always happy to take anyone who wanted to along for the ride.

The 65-year-old died in Auckland yesterday of cancer.

In the early 1960s, Davies and his mates Mike Ryan, Bill Sutcliffe and Peter Keaney, among others, left the Putaruru Athletic and Harrier Club to form the Tokoroa Track Club.

The move - and the fancy name (the result of a trip Davies and Murray Halberg made to the United States as guests of the Los Angeles Track Club) - signalled the start of an exciting era for the sport in New Zealand.

With support from Davies' employer (he was public relations officer for NZ Forest Products), the Tokoroa club hosted a series of track meets.

They were seriously great fun, with Davies happy to find accommodation in his company's quarters for the invited athletes. Ron Clarke, Kip Keino and a host of other international athletes ran on Tokoroa's grass track.

Davies and his mates took on and often beat the best. Lacking the numbers to match the stronger clubs in the longer road relays, they were virtually unbeatable over shorter distances.

Davies was the driving force - great company and a great competitor who was passionate and driven.

In his efforts to be a better athlete, he linked with coaching guru Arthur Lydiard, putting him head-to-head with Peter Snell. They were to become great rivals - and lifelong friends.

"Initially I did not see John as any threat," said Snell from his Dallas home last night. "I saw his arrival as a widening of the Lydiard influence.

"After Perth [where Snell pipped Davies in the mile at the 1962 Commonwealth Games] I thought I would have to watch him."

He did. Often from behind.

"If anything, I saw him as a team-mate, not so much as a rival, for Tokyo," said Snell, who recalled the mile they ran before the Queen in Dunedin in 1963 as the toughest race of his career.

"It was a huge struggle on the horrible old Caledonian track."

Davies continued to challenge Snell.

"In the build-up to Tokyo in early 1964, I had to get out of the country to win a race. Arthur and I went to South Africa.

"John beat me more than any other athlete."

Davies ran Snell to within half a second in the mile at Perth as New Zealand savoured a rare quinella that the pair almost repeated two years later in Tokyo.

Snell cruised through the 1500m heats, but Davies, who had the advantage of being a virtual nobody in the shadow of his team-mate, had a scrap in the semifinals before snatching a place in the nine-man final.

"It was a race that did not suit him," Snell recalled. "Arthur certainly saw him as a medal chance. He knew that I was going to sit and wait, whereas his best chance was off a fast pace.

"That didn't happen but he made his own pace and was still leading as we headed into the last bend, when I took over. He hung on pretty well."

In finishing third, Davies ensured, for the first time, that New Zealand would have two athletes on an Olympic dais.

Injury cut short his career. I watched him win the New Zealand mile championship in Christchurch in March 1966 - the last of five successive titles - before injury forced him out of the Kingston Games.

Davies was just as successful as a coach. He stuck to the Lydiard philosophy of hard work and produced worldbeaters - and just as many athletes who would never be.

He rekindled Anne Audain's career and became one of the first coaches - at Audain's insistence - to be paid. He would have done it for nothing.

Davies had his ideals and standards. The Olympic spirit remained his driving force.

Late last month, on the eve of chairing what was to be his last NZ Olympic Committee board meeting, he was awarded the inaugural Cuff Medal by the Olympic Academy as the greatest contributor to the value of the Olympic movement.

Another medal, but one that meant so much to a great athlete who gave everything off and on the track - and loved doing it.