Whanganui has lost one of its finest sports writers with the death of 90-year-old Eric Urlich in Kaikoura last weekend.

Eric, a prominent sportsman who represented Wanganui in cricket and table tennis, was sports editor of the Wanganui Chronicle in the 1950-1960 era.

He wrote under the nom-de-plume of "Left-Hander" and is best remembered for his front page coverage when Peter Snell set his world mile running record at Cooks Gardens on Saturday, January 27, 1962, before a packed crowd estimated at close to 20,000 spectators.

With the assistance of sub-editor Dennis Galvin the Chronicle came out with a memorable front page coverage that included a close-up shot of a stop watch locked at 3m 54.4s - the new world record time.


In his intro, Eric wrote, "None of us would have previously seen anything like it in the world of sport. It was an historic and colossal performance by the incredible Snell, the Olympic 800 metres champion who was making his first all-out assault on the sub four minute mile".

This was under headings of "Snell's World Record Mile" and "Thousands Cheer Epic Event At Cook's Gardens Track."

Although only fractionally faster than the previous world record (3m 54.5s), set by Australian Herb Elliott at Dublin four years earlier when five runners cracked the four minute barrier including fourth-placed New Zealander Murray Halberg (3m 57.7s) the Whanganui mile received instant world-wide recognition.

To add extra drama to the occasion the track announcer, after informing the spectators that Snell had equalled the world record, as mistakenly recorded in the meeting programme, produced even greater cheers of delight when he told the crowd that in fact a new world record had been set.

Considering the race was run on a grass track, international sports writer Roberto Quercertani, regarded as the world's leading athletics statistician, claimed in a 1964 book that the Whanganui mile was a "phenomenal effort".

Snell's mile record gave Whanganui its greatest world media exposure and the race coverage by Eric Urlich, which went out on the international media circuit, played a major role in promoting the event and the city.

The race was certainly the thrill of a lifetime for so many thousand spectators who still proudly claim "I was there that night".

Eric, who was also a sports writer in Wellington, was a top spin bowler in both Whanganui club and representative cricket and was also a rep cricket selector at one stage.

Perhaps one of his more notable moves as a selector was to drop former New Zealand test captain Harry Cave for a Wanganui match because of non-attendance at a practice session.

Eric had a policy that all players must attend practice and Cave missed a session because of farm work.

At table tennis Eric was a regular member of the Wanganui representative team, one of his strengths being a very sound defence.

But he also produced unusual but affective attacking strokes on occasions.

Eric joined the Catholic priesthood after he turned 50 and had parishes in the North and South Island.

His last few years of retirement were in Kaikoura.