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Sir Peter Snell's wife Miki pays tribute to husband: 'Nothing but good memories'

Athletics legend's widow says they had a "wonderful" 36 years together before his unexpected death.

The widow of athletics legend Sir Peter Snell says he was an "outstanding person" and wished their life together could have gone on "forever". 

Snell, 80, was with his wife at their home in Dallas, Texas on Thursday when he died following heart problems.

Miki Snell said New Zealand's greatest Olympian was dozing in front of the television when she heard him let out an unusual noise. 

NZ Olympic Team

NZ Olympic legend Peter Snell died in Dallas on Friday, aged 80.

"I tried to wake him up but he just wouldn't move," Miki told Stuff. "The paramedics came in about five minutes but they couldn't wake him either."

READ MORE:* New Zealand athletics legend and greatest Olympian Sir Peter Snell dies, aged 80 * Our greatest Olympian and a humble New Zealander - tributes flow for Sir Peter Snell* Kiwi athletics legend Sir Peter Snell has driving crash after heart episode* Te Papa to take possession of sporting treasures won by Sir Peter Snell

Miki said he had been having a good day up until then: "He felt good, he had gone and done some activities, and was planning on doing more. He wanted to play table tennis." 

Even though Snell had a heart condition for the past 10 years, Miki said his death was unexpected and coping with his loss would be an ongoing process. 

Peter and Miki Snell pose together for a photo after his knighthood ceremony.

NZPA

Peter and Miki Snell pose together for a photo after his knighthood ceremony.

"I have nothing but good memories and I treasure everything about it; thinking of him and his memory gives me a good feeling right now, it's not painful."

Miki spent 36 years with Peter: "It was a wonderful life we had, I am grateful for having a life with him, I wish it could have gone on forever.

"He was a major part of my life; it's going to be a total readjustment for me so it's just very sad."

Snell unveils a statue of himself in memory of his world breaking mile run at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui.

ROSS SETFORD/NZPA

Snell unveils a statue of himself in memory of his world breaking mile run at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui.

In the aftermath of his passing, Miki said she thought about the pair posing for recent photographs.

"He looked so well and happy. And so handsome. That was very gratifying."

GOLD MEDAL ATTITUDE

​Snell won three Olympic gold medals – the first in the 800 metres in 1960 in Rome – and is the only male since 1920 to win the 800m and 1500m at the same Olympics, in 1964 in Tokyo.

It was all down to preparation, his wife said: "He had a lot of talent and natural ability as an academic and in sport, but he also put the work in.

"He applied himself and stuck to it, he had a good attitude, he was optimistic and confident."

Sir Peter Snell is knighted by then-governor general Sir Anand Satayanad.

ROSS SETFORD/NZPA

Sir Peter Snell is knighted by then-governor general Sir Anand Satayanad.

Miki Snell said her husband would never brag about his achievements, but people would bring them up with him and want to talk about it. 

"Early on [in his life] it was a surprise and he was amazed by what he achieved, but he was prepared," she said. 

"He didn't worry about his competitors because he could only do what he could do on the day, but if he could do his best it was almost always good enough."

A SMALL MEMORIAL

Miki Snell said her husband had wrote out a directive of what to do after his death. 

"He wanted to be cremated and his ashes distributed however his family and his daughters wanted," she said. 

Winning the 800 metres at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

AP

Winning the 800 metres at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

"We will hold a small memorial close to our residence with close friends and family, but there won't be a big public service." 

He did not want a burial site for people to visit en masse, she said. 

'PETER LOVED NEW ZEALAND'

Miki Snell, an American, said she loved and admired the people of New Zealand.

"They are bright, energetic and just a good stock of people," she said.

"Peter loved New Zealand, the reason he wanted to donate his medals to Te Papa was he wanted the people to know how proud he was to be from there.

"He was an outstanding person, New Zealanders were very proud of him, and he really deserved it.

"He has a lot of admirers in the city of Dallas and in the United States, and all over the world in fact – he will be missed."

Snell gave 14 items from his personal collection to Te Papa, including two Olympic gold medals.

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Snell gave 14 items from his personal collection to Te Papa, including two Olympic gold medals.

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