Table Tennis Presents Another Golden Opportunity for Sir Peter Snell

By Richard Finn | June 05, 2018, 11:23 p.m. (ET)

Sir Peter Snell New Zealand Table Tennis WVC

In his prime Sir Peter Snell of New Zealand was one of the most accomplished and decorated middle distance runners of all time.

He was a three-time Olympic gold medalist, taking the gold at 800 meters in 1960 in Rome and then a historic 800 meters and 1500 meters double in Tokyo four years later. Snell set five world records and won two Commonwealth gold medals.

Long retired from running, today as he approaches his 80th birthday Snell has adopted he same attitude to competing in his most recent athletic endeavor table tennis as he did when he was an Olympian.

“The connection between my running career and table tennis is that the level of performance in each activity is directly related to the quantity and quality of training and preparation,” Snell said from his home in Dallas where last weekend he finished 2nd in the under 1250 in the Dallas Fort Worth Summer Open Tournament.

That training and preparation right now is focused on the World Veterans Championship (WVC). Snell will be one of more than 4,000 players from a record 86 countries who will gather for 18th edition of the world’s largest table tennis tournament June 18-24 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In his first WVC Snell will be playing in the 80 and over division in singles.

Snell came to playing table tennis in a circuitous route and only after a life changing moment.

Upon retiring, Snell moved to the US to continue his college studies and also returned to playing some of the sports that he had when he was teenager before giving them up for only track.

“As a teenager I played tennis (junior tournaments) and badminton before I concentrated on running when I was 19. Therefore after retiring from competitive running at 26, I resumed my interest in ball games tennis, badminton, squash, field hockey and golf,” said Snell.

Then life took an unexpected twist.

“Fast forwarding to 2011, I collapsed on the racquetball court and was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. I received an implanted defibrillator/pacemaker, lots of drugs and was unable to do physically demanding sports. Golf was ok as long as I could ride in a cart,” recalled Snell.

“Around this time a friend from square dancing class invited me to play table tennis doubles with him and I found I was able to play effectively at an effort level my heart could handle. Miki, (his wife) who didn’t have any experience with racquet games wanted to play so we start going to a Senior Center to play twice a week. Within a couple of years we were entering Senior tournaments, taking lessons and playing 5 times a week,” said Snell.

In the years that he has been playing, Snell has come to appreciate the subtleties and challenges of the game.

“I have come to realize that table tennis is by far the most technical of all the racquet games and am still trying to master the complexities of creating and recognizing spin not to say understanding the effects of long pips,” he said.

Simply being part of such a spectacular event as the WVC is more exciting to Snell than any competitive tournament goals.

“It has taken some time to undo my instinctive tennis strokes. My USATT rating is currently 1180, but I do well against 1500 players. Miki and I play in about 10 tournaments each year and do well against our age-matched peers,” said Snell.

“My expectations are realistically modest, perhaps advancing a couple of matches in the consolation bracket.”

Certainly the New Zealand contingent will be delighted to see a sporting hero from the history of their nation in Las Vegas, including USATT Media and Communications Director Matt Hetherington who hails from the southern hemisphere nation.

"I think it's one of those unique stories that deserve a moment in the limelight, like many of the 4,000 athletes competing - all of whom have their own stories to be told. I found it particularly thrilling to hear that Sir Peter Snell was involved in table tennis in the US and I enjoyed meeting with him last year at the US Open. Will look forward to seeing him again in Vegas."

Indeed another golden experience and one we hope Sir Peter cherishes.