Peter Snell breaks world mile record

27 January 1962

Peter Snell breaks the world mile record at Cooks Gardens, 1962 (Whanganui Regional Museum, Sp/Ath/17)

The 23-year-old Olympic 800-m champion (see 2 September) hoped to run the first four-minute mile on New Zealand soil. In fact, he broke Australian Herb Elliott’s 3½-year-old world record by the smallest possible margin, 0.1 seconds. This was an astonishing feat on a 353-m grass track at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, in a race that did not go to plan.

When the starter’s gun fired, the seven runners dawdled for several seconds before designated pacemaker Barry Cossar took off. He led through the half-mile as planned, in exactly two minutes. But no one else then took up the running and Snell had to lead for the third quarter-mile.

At the start of the last lap, Englishman Bruce Tulloh surged ahead. Snell burst past him and ran the last 440 yds in 54.6 seconds to stop the clock at 3 minutes 54.4 seconds. This was arguably a performance the equal of John Walker’s sub-3:50 mile in Göteborg in 1975.

A week later, Snell smashed the world records for the 800 m and 880 yards – again on a grass track (Lancaster Park, Christchurch) and again after the pacemaking went wrong.