New Zealander won 5000m at the 1960 Rome Games as well as breaking world records during a glittering career
Sir Murray Halberg, the Olympic 5000m champion in 1960, two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist and multiple world record-breaker, has died aged 89.
The New Zealand athlete achieved greatness on the track despite sustaining a rugby injury when he was 17 which left him with a withered left arm and a doctor’s verdict that he would never run again.
His career was guided by Arthur Lydiard and he trained alongside Peter Snell, the three-time Olympic middle-distance champion who died in 2019.
One of Snell’s Olympic victories came at 800m in Rome with Halberg winning the 5000m just over half an hour later. It went down in history as the ‘golden hour’ and the two men were immortalised as New Zealand greats.
Born on July 7, 1933, in Eketāhuna, Halberg moved to Auckland and, following his rugby injury, began running the following year and soon afterwards met Lydiard.
In 1958 he won gold in the three miles at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff and in the same year became the first sub-four-minute miler from New Zealand.
In 1960 he ran the 5000m and 10,000m at the Olympics in Rome. It was at the shorter distance where he struck gold, though.
Courageously breaking away with 1300m to run and building up a lead of over 30m at one stage, Halberg crossed the 5000m finish line in 13:43.4.
His daring tactics in Rome thrilled the crowd, who were willing him to hang on as his lead diminished, but one notable critic was his hero, Emil Zátopek. “He said it was a foolish way to run and that I should have ‘sat’ on the other runners and won by outsprinting them on the run to the tape,” Halberg said of Zátopek’s criticism. “My response to Zátopek was that, running the way I did, I left little doubt as regards the outcome.”
Halberg finished fifth in the 10,000m in Rome and then successfully defended his three-mile title at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth.
He also set world records for two miles, 4 x 1 mile relay and three miles before ending his running career at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo where he finished seventh in the 10,000m.
READ MORE: Peter Snell dies aged 80
New Zealand Olympic Committee president Liz Dawson said: “No one ever exemplified the Olympic spirit of triumphing over adversity better than Sir Murray Halberg.”
Halberg was knighted in 1988 for services to sport and disabled children and inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. After a battle with cancer, he returned to good health and attended the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester as a mentor for the athletes.
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