DIARY: The Hand of Snell

Contemplating a little memento I got here as I sit in the Cottage recuperating after the first Lydiard Hill Circuit of the new training phase. With a very short and not particularly high mileage aerobic phase, it felt tough especially with jetlag and caloric deficit feeding it but having Jason for company through the two hard laps saw us through the same high quality workout that served Halberg, Baillie, Puckett, Julian, Davies and Snell so well fifty (!) years ago.

And the memento relates to the last gentlemen: On my table lies one of my most treasured books, the 1965 Australian print version of “No Bugles, No Drums”, Snell’s biography. It now bears the inscription of the man who won three Olympic golds, two Commonwealth golds and set eight world and two Olympic records whilst doing so: “To Rene, Keep spreading the Lydiard magic in Ireland. – Peter Snell”. I am sure the market value of this old copy has soared but it will remain in my bookshelf for as long as I am able to keep it.

Snell is the world’s greatest middle-distance runner as far as I am concerned despite the tough competition from men such as Elliott, Walker, Coe, Ovett, Cram, Guerrouj, and Kipketer. His personal best 800m time of 1:44.3 was run on a type of track often estimated to be at least a second per lap slower than modern running tracks and would still have been good enough to take the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing. It is still today, 49 years later, the New Zealand record. Add to this his superb 3.54.4 mile. One of those rare powerful runners with 22.3 second 200m speed who combined their talent with 100-mile weeks and you had an almost perfect athlete.

He retired, arguably still at his peak, at the early age of 26, since, back then, running was not really a sustainable profession. We’ll never know what he could have gone on to do. We do know that he went on to grace the profession of sports science. Aged 73, he still serves as the Director of Human Performance at the University of Texas Medical Centre in Dallas, a testament to a man who never grew tired of pursuing his passion for performance.

Striding down the fast descent section of the circuit at just around 1-minute 400s, Jason and I could contemplate the fact that Snell would stride down double this distance putting 55s 400s together at this best. Still I find it only inspires, rather than deters, and feeds the hope that we too, even as late starters, will get a chance to share in the Lydiard magic.