Academy Honors Sir Peter Snell with Distinguished Service Award

By December 9, 2015News & Events


DAPHNE, Ala. – The United States Sports Academy has honored New Zealand former middle-distance runner Sir Peter Snell with a 2015 Distinguished Service Award following his lifelong career in sport, on the track, and in the classroom. The honor is given annually to those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to national or international sport through education, research, or service.

As a teenager attending high school in the small town of Te Aroha, Sir Peter excelled at a variety of sports, including tennis, badminton, rugby, golf, and middle-distance running. When he was 16 he attended Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland, New Zealand, where he was third in the 880 yard run, the mile run, and cross-country events. After graduating from high school and commencing work in Auckland in 1958, he was introduced to Coach Arthur Lydiard, who persuaded him to concentrate solely on running and developing his endurance through distance running. A year later he was the New Zealand champion at both 880 yards and the mile.

Sir Peter gained international attention at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome when he was the surprise winner of the 800 meters, setting a new Olympic record. He was particularly dominant at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where he repeated his gold medal win in the 800 meters, and added gold in the 1500 meters. The 800 – 1500 double is a feat still unmatched in the Olympic Games.

Sir Peter won two more gold medals at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, doubling at 880 yards and the mile. Earlier that year he had set world records at 880 yards, 800 meters, and the mile.

Overall, he set five individual world records, two indoor world records, and joined with fellow New Zealand athletes to set a new 4 x 1 mile relay record as well. In 1965, at the peak of his career, Sir Peter published his biography, which under the draconian International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules of the time, automatically disqualified him from amateur competition.

His primary athletic pursuit in retirement has been as a competitor and administrator in the sport of Orienteering, in which he has won multiple age-group championships, until health problems limited him to golf and table tennis.

In 1974, Sir Peter came to the United States to further his education. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis and went on to do physiological research at Washington State University where he earned his Ph.D. After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, he joined the faculty and became a recognized expert in exercise physiology, authoring many peer-reviewed research papers and giving invited lectures around the world.

A member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Sir Peter was honored in 1999 as an Inaugural Inductee into the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame, located at the University of Rhode Island. In 2000, he was named New Zealand’s Athlete of the 20th Century. In 2002 he was honored as a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and a few years later he officially became “Sir Peter Snell.”

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, regionally accredited, special mission Sports University created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy visit