Peter George Snell, that very quick man from New Zealand, is of a mixed mind when it comes to indoor track meets. He likes the circusy hubbub of it all and the mixing and milling of athletes, and he says that here he is in his element. But he reckons, too, that indoor records do not excite the mind a great deal, and he finds, moreover, that running races on the banked wooden track exerts stresses and strains on his legs and feet that he is neither accustomed to nor happy about. "As a long strider," he says, "you have all that bother of holding yourself tight in the turns and pushing with this leg and favoring that one, and I'm not keen on it at all. For me, one mile on the boards amounts to one and a half miles out of doors."
Notwithstanding this nettlesome ambivalence, a certain singleness of purpose seemed to have taken hold of Peter Snell one day last week when he knocked off early from work, boarded a plane at Auckland's Whenuapai Airport and, despite the peripheral effects of a cyclone in the Fiji Islands, set out for California, 19 hours to the east. His destination was Los Angeles where, in 1962, he had begun his indoor career by running 1,000 yards in two minutes and six seconds, a world record. And now, having competed only three other times indoors, Snell was coming back to retire. He said he supposed his aim in his last indoor appearance was to set a new world record for the 1,000 yards—"to give New Zealand something to hold on to for a while." Among those hoping very earnestly to upset that pretty little send-off was Canada's Bill Crothers. He had finished seven yards behind Snell in the 1962 race—and about four yards behind him in the 800 meters at the Tokyo Olympics.
Because Snell had accepted the
Los Angeles Times
' invitation to its games—and not a single other U.S. indoor meet—his arrival in Los Angeles late Thursday afternoon amounted to something special. Snell, of course, had won two gold medals in Tokyo and had set an up-to-date record for the mile in November—3:54.1. His name on the list of contenders in Los Angeles certainly had had a lot to do with the fact that the Sports Arena had sold out the preceding Tuesday. Accordingly, the meet director himself, Glenn Davis, showed up at the airport to meet the celebrity.
Davis, old sidekick to Doc Blanchard at Army, old beau to Liz Taylor and old friend to Peter Snell, was looking weary, and he combed his hair as Snell's jet taxied up to Gate 29. Presently, looking bashful and carrying in a plastic bag a dejected white and violet flower lei which he had acquired in Honolulu, Snell came smiling into view. He was wearing black, pointy shoes, light-gray trousers, a white nylon shirt with cloisonn� cuff links which Sally, his wife, had bought for him in Tokyo for Christmas, and a black wool blazer with silver buttons and " New Zealand/ Tokyo 1964/Athletics" embroidered on the left-hand breast pocket. Around him, ever so faintly, hovered the delicate essence of winter-green.
Snell and Sally, on a honeymoon-and-racing trip to California in 1963, had spent two weeks with the Glenn Davises, and Mr. Outside moved right up to Peter and shook hands. Then, a little diffidently, Miss Jean Greig came forward to shake hands, too. Snell did not know Miss Greig, nor she him, but she is the acting New Zealand consul in Los Angeles, and somehow, well, it seemed the thing to do. " Wellington let me know to expect him weeks ago, but then I heard nothing more," said Jean Greig. "When I picked up the papers the other day and saw an advertisement for the track meet, I suddenly realized Peter must be almost here."
Miss Greig, answering a question, said Wellington was not a friend in sporting circles back home, but rather the capital of her country, and added that her function, she imagined, would "be to take care of Peter should he break his leg, heaven forbid." Snell, forcing a laugh of sorts, filled his lungs and said that what his legs really felt like doing was running. "Arriving in the U.S.—in California—is very refreshing," he said. "What time is it by your time?" asked Davis. "It's just past lunch tomorrow," replied Snell, larking.
A press conference had been scheduled for just before dinner Thursday at Snell's hotel, the Sheraton-West, which gives the meet's competitors a special rate. When Snell walked in for the conference, a photographer obliged him first to pose, in a gesture of Commonwealth solidarity, passing a plate of crusty sandwiches to Frances Slaap, a London high jumper, and Anita Webb, a Birmingham half-miler. That much accomplished, Snell sat down and the man from the Times said, "Peter, is it true you are really going to retire this year?" Snell, who is 26, said, "Definitely. I'll take one last fling through the U.S. and Europe this summer—maybe even go to Russia, I should like to hope—but that's to be it."
"Will you ever run the 3:50 mile?" asked the man from the Herald-Examiner. "I thought so once," said Snell, "but now I don't know. It would be very tough."
"Why do you wish to retire?" asked the Christian Science Monitor. "To achieve results, you've got to spend so much time. If I had been beaten in the Olympics, perhaps...but I've quite a few records already. The Australians say, yeah, but you don't have the 1,500-meter record—Herb Elliott's got that. Maybe I can change that too. But, Sally, my wife, well, developing a family is among our plans; not children just yet, perhaps, but that too. It all figures in my decision to withdraw."
"Was winning two gold medals in Tokyo your greatest thrill in racing?" "It was the greatest achievement for me. Winning one, my first, at 800 meters in Rome, was my greatest thrill."