Te Papa exhibition honours Snell/Halberg gold medal double at 1960 Olympics
September 2, 1960 - the day Sir Peter Snell shocked the world, dashing to golden glory in the brilliant Roman sunshine in front of 90,000 people.
Nearly 60 years on, the 1960 Olympic 800m gold medallist has donated some of his memorabilia to a new Te Papa exhibition, prompting a Waikanae man to reminisce on one of New Zealand sport's finest days.
Jim Wallace was a young journalist on his OE at the time, working for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation and writing for the Auckland Weekly News.
He watched metres away as Snell, a rank outsider, set a new Olympic record, and won New Zealand's first Olympic 800m gold medal.
"Displaying excellent temperament, shrewd judgement and cracking speed for one so young, Snell always had the field well covered ... just when it appeared that he might be boxed in, he saw an opening and was through to outpace the world recordholder, Roger Moens of Belgium," he wrote.
Looking back, he remembered it vividly.
"Snell just left them in his wake ... tactically he was the best in the world."
Snell, a 21-year-old surveyor at the time, was followed onto the dais less than an hour later by Sir Murray Halberg, 27, a brewer's chemist with a paralysed left arm, at the peak of his powers.
Halberg was much more heavily favoured in the 5000m, and did not disappoint, winning comfortably.
The double Kiwi triumph was big news. Wallace said the overseas press clamoured to him for the good oil, and while staying about a block from the Stadio Olimpico, he took on a psuedo-celebrity status.
"The Italians were ecstatic over the New Zealanders. They'd say how great it was for our little country in the South Pacific to produce two world-class runners.
"When the locals found out I was a New Zealander and I knew Snell and Halberg, they'd come to me and want to talk.
"For the whole duration of the games I didn't have to pay for breakfast."
Snell went on to win the 800m/1500m double at the Tokyo Olympics four years later.
His 14 donated items include two of his gold medals, and a specially-made right shoe he wore while winning gold in Rome.
"I thought the other day the reception he got was terrific," Wallace said. "I thought it was a terrific gesture by him ... there's something there for future generations to view and take inspiration from."