Snell is definitely going to run the 1,500 at the Olympics, but he does not yet know whether he will contest the 800, although he plans to compete in the first heat. "I'll be short of races," he says, "and I can use the heat as part of my training. Actually, the half is my favorite race but, unfortunately, it is not the event the public wants to see. They want to see me run the mile in under four minutes. There is a possibility that I'll try for the double. I'd like to think I'd run both, and at the moment the opposition in the 800 looks easy, but I would rather win the 1,500, and I don't want to jeopardize my chances. The 1,500 is a glamour event."
Peter Snell is now 25. He has put on a few pounds since he established his world records in 1962 and weighs 171. He says he stands 5 feet 10�, but he somehow gives the impression of being a much bigger man. At rest, his pulse is 42, and it is, as he says, "an extraordinary experience" to feel its strange, slow beat. Snell has an appealing, boyish, bony face, and his left ear protrudes more than his right. He and Sally, who is 22, and whom he married on May 11, 1963, live in a $10,000 yellow clapboard house at 67 Walker Road in the Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier.
"This is a working-class neighborhood," Snell says. "The families here are all grown up. So it's quiet and peaceful. Not long ago I was placing collection cans in hotels—bars—for an Olympic appeal. I must tell you that New Zealanders are not particularly civilized in their drinking. One fellow says, 'You know me.' I say, 'Should I?' He says, 'I'm your neighbor.' Well, he isn't, actually. He lives five houses away. Admittedly, the people here think Sally and I are snobs. I don't have time to call on people. And, partly, we don't want to intrude. They're all so much older than us, too. We just can't go in and say we've...."
Snell's house is situated on a long, narrow quarter-acre plot. He has a small front lawn and, unlike his neighbors, he has erected a picket fence along the sidewalk. Last month the flower beds around the front lawn were blooming with lavender, dwarf iris, carnations, roses, chrysanthemums and marigolds. "Gardening will be one of my main interests," Snell says. Even today he sometimes forgoes his morning run to dig in the garden. The backyard, which slopes away from the house, is planted with fruit trees: Gravenstein, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples, pear, mandarin orange, lemon, Golden Queen peach, plum and grapefruit.
The Snells live in five small rooms. Snell's domain is his den, what he calls "my junk room." In it are his mugs, cups and plaques, his Olympic medal, golf sticks, a great naval gun shell that serves as an ashtray, bottles of wine, an old portable typewriter he uses in connection with his work for Rothmans, a suitcase with "Petey's Play Box" lettered on it. "Sally's parents have a sense of humor," Snell says wryly. "It's a set of tools, actually."
Snell has only two slender scrapbooks. The first clipping reads: "P. Snell completed a well-judged 880 yds. in 2 min. 26.7 seconds." "I was just 13," he says. "It's very mediocre." Snell, who grew up in the rural town of Te Aroha, some 70 miles southeast of Auckland, did not begin running in earnest until he was 19. He excelled in all ball games, showing particular promise as a left-handed tennis player. From the time he was 5 his mother gave him a new racket for each successive birthday. The second scrapbook concludes with his Olympic victory. "Write-ups don't mean anything to me anymore," Snell explains. "It isn't necessary to read my clippings to boost my ego. I've become blas� about it, if you're familiar with that word."
However, despite his athletic feats and his celebrity, or perhaps because of them, Peter Snell is not convinced he is a success; he is frequently dissatisfied, regretful, groping. He enjoys working for Rothmans, where he is a sales representative and assistant to the advertising manager, but is very sensitive about it. He has been told that it is not a proper job for an athlete and hero. "Do you really think I'm ruining my image?" he will ask, rather forlornly. Then, too, he is disturbed because he does not have a profession and that he did not go to a university. "This is my complex," he admits. "I haven't accomplished anything scholastically. You see, my father was an electrical engineer, my brother and my cousins are all electrical engineers." "There was so much emphasis put on becoming an engineer in Pete's family," Sally says. "There was no room for individuality. When the Queen made Pete an M.B.E. [Member of the Order of the British Empire], his brother told him he'd rather be a B.E.E. [Bachelor of Electrical Engineering]." "I'm getting over it though," Snell says. "I'm starting to realize that other fellows.... I think you can succeed just as well without a degree as with, but I am partly disappointed that I spent so much time in sport. Therefore, I feel sport owes me something. Basically, I'm not bitter about not being able to reap the rewards, but I'm aware I'm making a lot of money for someone."
"Pete used to think people were going to use him for what they could get out of him," Sally says. "It was his bugbear. Before we were married he lived almost like a recluse. He missed out on a lot and he's suffered for it. He didn't come in contact with all the odd bods. He's still diffident and staidy, but at least now he has a reasonable sense of humor. The first time I went out with him he didn't try to make a pass at me. So many bods you're always having to protect your virtue. What a relief! I could relax with him. He was different. He thought I was a Catholic, and without my knowing it he bought a book on Catholicism and studied up on it. He told his mother and she forbade him to marry me. Imagine that! He was 24! When we got married Pete said I'd either have to give up work—I was working in a bank, in foreign exchange—or he'd give up Tokyo.
Bit of blackmail. He always had it in the back of his mind that it was essential I give up work."
"Peter was pitched forth from no one into a world figure," says Mrs. Warren, his former landlady. "But we think he's handled everything very well. Not in the least bigheaded. When he came here we gave him a feeling of belonging, a stable homelife. He never came home to a lot of bickering. It was a little while before he would thaw out at that stage. He was very quiet. Like getting a pearl out of an oyster to get him to talk. He always felt that people wouldn't listen to what he had to say. I didn't know he had a sister for six months. He didn't think anyone would be interested."