Runners reflect on Snell's 'impossible' runs 60 years on

Source: 1News

Sixty years ago to the day, Sir Peter Snell lined up at Whanganui with the aim of being the first person to crack the four-minute barrier for the mile in New Zealand - he ended up breaking the world record.

Alex Shaw, who lined up alongside Snell on that historic day at Cook’s Garden, knew something special was brewing before the race.

“It's very easy to cast my mind back that far actually,” Shaw told 1News.

“It was such an electric, magnificent day."

Shaw lined up on the far left with Snell just five runners away.

“That's as close as I got to him during the race,” Shaw grinned.

After the race had started, Shaw could only watch as Englishman Bruce Tulloh took the lead heading into the final lap with Snell poised to make his move.

“When I saw Peter Snell take off and just fly incredibly, I slowed right down to watch,” he said.

“And so did the others with me. It was just too impossible.

What they witnessed was history; three minutes, 54 seconds-point-four for a new mile world record by one tenth of a second.

“I went home and said it was a very disappointing race as I only did 4.14,” Shaw said.

“[Snell] said, 'don't worry, son. You'll remember this one long after the other ones’. I said, 'don't be stupid,' but he was right!"

Soon after, it was Barry Robinson’s turn to marvel at Snell in his prime.

Robinson - a 400-metre specialist - was the pacemaker to Snell in his 800-metre world record just a week later at Lancaster Park.

“My main concern in Christchurch to be honest with you was myself,” Robinson said.

“I wanted to give him a good decent healthy ride on the shortest available distance."

He certainly did that with Snell surging to 1:44.3.

“With the affliction of time I think personally his greatness is being redefined - I believe that because at the time it was brilliant, we all enjoyed it, the achievements that he made was phenomenal,” Robinson said.

“He is New Zealand's greatest ever athlete, in my view. In fact, I believe New Zealand's greatest ever sportsman."