He had one of the shortest careers of world famous international sportsmen yet achieved so much that he was voted New Zealand’s ‘Sports Champion Of The (20th) Century’. A protege of the great New Zealand athletics coach Arthur Lydiard, Snell is known for the three Olympic gold medals he won, but is also respected not so much because of what he achieved, but how he achieved it -- with total dominance, grace and humility.
During his early career he started with NZ titles and records for 880yds and the mile and being an unusually large (by track standards) and powerful man, hinted of great things to come.
He came to international attention when he won gold and set a new record for 800m at the Rome Olympics in 1960. He was particularly dominant four years later at the Tokyo Olympics where he won gold and set a new record in the 800m and won gold in the 1500m. His time in the 800m would have been good enough to win silver, and only fractionally miss gold, 46 years later at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He was the first athlete to win the 800m in consecutive Olympics and to win both the 800m and the 1500m in the same games.
In January 1962 Snell had broken the world mile record before a huge crowd at Cook’s Gardens in Wanganui, and one week later set new world records for both the 800m and 800yds at Christchurch. He then won gold and set a new record for 880yds at the Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962, and won gold for the mile at that same games. Later that year he was created a Member of The British Empire (MBE).
In all, Snell set five individual world records and joined with fellow Kiwi athletes to set a new four by one mile relay record as well. He was at the peak of his career in 1965 and promising much more when he stunned New Zealand and the athletics world by announcing his retirement to move on to other things.
He worked for a tobacco company before moving to the USA in 1971 to further his education. He gained a BSc in Human Performance, and then a PhD in Exercise Physiology. He joined University of Texas South-western Medical Centre at Dallas as a research fellow in 1981. He is Assistant professor, Department of Internal Medicine and also Director of their Human Performance Center. A member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Snell was honoured in 1999 as an Inaugural Inductee, International Scholar, into the Athlete Hall of Fame, University of Rhode Island.