Peter Snell’s winning shoes, Rome Olympic Games 1960

So here in front of us we have a gift from Sir Peter Snell. He’s given us his most precious objects from his career as an athlete. I think the most interesting object is possibly the shoe here which he wore at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960. It was made for him by Arthur Lydiard, his coach. So Arthur Lydiard was one of the greatest athletic coaches the world has ever seen. But he was also a shoemaker. He experimented for many years trying to perfect the track shoe. So, for example, this shoe, it’s quite generous in the toe. He believed that athletes needed a sizable ‘toe box’ to make sure the toes were comfortable and not squashed. And for Peter at Rome, Lydiard added a rubber heel to soften the impact. And he won all his races wearing this shoe. Adidas had given free pairs of shoes to all of the other finalists but not to Peter Snell because they didn’t consider him a medal contender. But when he won the semi-finals they thought, ‘ah well, l think we better give him a pair of shoes’. So Adidas gave him a free pair, but he stuck with Lydiard’s shoes as they were tried and tested and he went on to win the 800-metres much to the surprise of Adidas and everybody around the world. Peter Snell won this gold medal at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960 for the 800-metre race. It’s really interesting because before 1960, Olympic medals were simply the medallion they didn’t hang around your neck. And so for the very first time in 1960 they created it to go around the athletes’ necks. What I really love about the Rome gold medal is that Peter Snell became a national celebrity and when he came home so many people touched the gold medal that they actually rubbed off some of the gilt.

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