NEW YORK: Olympic and New Zealand sport is in mourning for Sir Peter Snell, who has died at 80 at home in Dallas, Texas.

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.

He set world records in the mile and 800m and also won dual gold at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth.

Snell surprised himself and the rest of the world when he pipped Belgium’s Roger Moens to win gold in the 800m in Rome in his first Olympic appearance.

He was then at the peak of his powers four years later at the Tokyo Olympics when he set a new Olympic record when defending his 800m title and made it three gold from as many events by easily winning the 1500m final.

His athletics career was relatively brief as he turned his sights to education after settling in the United States. He gained a Bachelor of Science in human performance from the University of California, Davis, and then a PhD in exercise physiology from Washington State University. He joined the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre at Dallas as a research fellow in 1981.

Snell, who developed heart problems in 2010, passed out while driving and crashed into several parked vehicles last month.