1960 Olympic 5000m champion Murray Halberg (centre) with his fellow medallists Hans Grodotzki and Kazimierz Zimny (© Getty Images)
World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that New Zealand’s 1960 Olympic 5000m gold medallist Sir Murray Halberg died on Wednesday (30) at the age of 89.
As well as claiming Olympic victory in Rome, Halberg set multiple world bests and won two Commonwealth titles during his highly successful career. The first New Zealander to run a sub-four-minute mile, Halberg also leaves a legacy off the track as founder of the Halberg Foundation.
Born in Eketahuna on 7 July 1933, Halberg grew up in Auckland where he played cricket and rugby, but a rugby injury at the age of 17 left him with a withered arm.
He switched his attention to athletics and a turning point came in 1951 when he met coach Arthur Lydiard. Three years later Halberg finished fifth in the mile at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, and he made his Olympic debut in 1956, placing 11th in the 1500m final in Melbourne.
The first of his Commonwealth three-mile crowns was claimed in Cardiff in 1958, the same year he became his nation’s first sub-four-minute miler, and he retained that Commonwealth title in Perth in 1962, racing as an Olympic champion.
To claim that honour in Rome, Halberg made a bold break with around three laps of the Olympic 5000m final to go, and at one point had a 20m advantage. Although his rivals started to reel him in, Halberg couldn’t be caught and he got gold in 13:43.76, not long after his training partner and compatriot Peter Snell won the 800m.
In 1961 Halberg achieved four world bests, three of them (two miles, 4 x mile relay and three miles) within just 19 days.
He went on to compete at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, finishing seventh in the 10,000m and racing in the 5000m heats, before retiring from athletics.
Knighted in 1988 for services to sport and children with a disability, Halberg later received the Order of New Zealand for his service to athletics and charity work. He was also appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to athletics and was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.
“Sir Murray was a fierce competitor who gave his all on the track, and a true gentleman who served others throughout his life,” said Athletics New Zealand chief executive Peter Pfitzinger. “He was a true champion in every respect and a great New Zealander.”
New Zealand Olympic Committee president Liz Dawson also paid tribute and said: “No one ever exemplified the Olympic spirit of triumphing over adversity better than Sir Murray Halberg.
“But Sir Murray was more than just an inspiration on the field of play. Following his sporting career, he used his platform to help those less fortunate, transforming the lives of children with a disability as the founder and driving force behind the Halberg Foundation. Sir Murray used his triumph over adversity to inspire others to do the same.”