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Athletics

Remembering how Snell tore up the Tokyo track on his way to historic double


On 21 October 1964, nine men lined up for the Tokyo Olympic 1500m final. Three minutes and 38.1 seconds later, New Zealand’s Peter Snell became the first man in 44 years to complete an Olympic 800m/1500m double, adding a third gold medal to the one with which he had shocked the world in Rome four years prior over 800m.

As with most Olympic victories, it was not so much the winning as the manner of winning which took the eye. To describe Snell’s Tokyo victories in the 800m and 1500m as emphatic is almost inadequate. He destroyed both fields with tremendous bursts of speed over the closing stages – eye-catching for onlookers, lung-bursting for opponents.

Snell’s teammate John Davies, the 1500m bronze medallist, summed up graphically for the defeated. “All of us were sprinting as fast as we could,” he told New Zealand journalist Joseph Romanos in an interview for the book ‘Arthur’s Boys’, “yet none of us could stay with Peter.

“We were helpless. My chief memory down the final straight is of Peter’s huge legs ripping great chunks of cinders out of the track with his powerful stride.”