'I really do love this country' - Sir Peter Snell bursting with pride as he gifts items from his stellar career to the nation

Athletics great Sir Peter Snell says he was overwhelmed and proud when he was welcomed by a powhiri at Te Papa in honour of a new display of his donations.

Sir Peter, 78, has gifted 14 items, including the 800m Olympic gold medals he won in Rome in 1960 and in Tokyo four years later.

Mementos from Sir Peter Snell's shining sporting career have been gifted to Te Papa. Source: 1 NEWS

He clutched a tissue with watery eyes when he addressed the room, and said he was so pleased and proud.

"This is an emotional moment... I really do love this country," he said today.

This is Texas-based Sir Peter's first trip to New Zealand since he became a knight in 2009, and his family, including his granddaughters, came with him.

He said he feels guilty about not living here, but felt like opportunities had run out for him.

"I miss the oceans, mountains, friends... New Zealand has done a lot for me... but I was living a futureless existence. The desire for glory and recognition doesn't go away when we retire."

All 14 items will be part of New Zealand's national history collection in perpetuity.

It also includes a shoe from a pair made by coach Arthur Lydiard and worn during the race in Rome.

Sport New Zealand's head Peter Miskimmin was also there and said it was a special day for the country.

"You took on the world and won, you're a treasure to New Zealand."

Seniors and Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry said Sir Peter has inspired generations of Kiwis.

"On the shoulders of giants we stand," she said.

After visiting Te Papa, he heads to Auckland to compete with his wife, Miki, in table tennis at the World Masters Games beginning on Friday.

He's competing in the masters games – and is also making a special gift to New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

His donation came after Te Papa bid at a 2015 auction for a singlet thought to have been worn by him at the Tokyo Olympics.

The sale didn't proceed when the museum raised doubts about the singlet's authenticity.

The third of Sir Peter's gold medals, for the 1500m in Tokyo, is in the NZ Sports Hall of Fame in Dunedin.

The other shoe in the pair he wore in Rome was turned into an athletics trophy.