Friday, September 2, 2011

The Golden Hour

When sports fans recall NZ’s greatest sporting days, the events of September 2nd. 1960 always occupy a prominent place. It was the day of the "Golden Hour", when Peter Snell and Murray Halberg indelibly inked NZ’s name on the Rome Olympic Games canvas with a remarkable Snell wins 800mtrack double.
21yr.old Snell had gone to Rome as a relatively little-known middle-distance runner. He'd raced outside NZ only once before, his world ranking over 800m was just 26th, and he was not favoured for a medal.
But he was helped by the calming presence of his experienced teammate Halberg, and the careful preparation of legendary coach Arthur Lydiard.
In the 800m final, run at a red-hot pace, the favourite (world record-holder Roger Moens of Belgium) took the lead 100m from the finish and looked a certainty. But Snell surged past on the inside, crossing the line with his eyes shut. When he discovered he’d won gold, he was so stunned that he didn’t even take a victory lap!Halberg kills the 5000m
Then it was Halberg's turn in the 5000m. The popular NZer was a world-class miler in the mid-1950s and, although disappointing in the 1500m final at the ‘56 Melbourne Games, he won gold in the 3-mile event at the '58 Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, and easily qualified for the 5000m final in Rome.
Running to a plan set by Lydiard, he burst ahead of the field with three laps to go, and hung on bravely as other runners chased him down the home straight. Inspired by Snell's triumph, Halberg won in 13 minutes 43.4sec. A couple of strides after reaching the tape, he collapsed on the infield, completely spent. Australian distance champion Ron Clarke described it as 'probably the most courageous run in Olympic history'.
NZ has had other great days at the Olympics but never in such the legend Arthur Lydiardglamorous, high-profile events as on that golden day in Rome.
Sir Peter Snell, KNZM, MBE - voted NZ’s Sports Champion of the 20th Century - now resides in Texas. His autograph, signed for me as a young teenager, is a prized possession.
Sir Murray Halberg, ONZ, MBE, established The Halberg Trust, which supports children with disabilities to be active in sport, creation and leisure.
Arthur Lydiard, ONZ, OBE, died in December 2004, lauded as one of the most outstanding athletics coaches of all time.

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