Top photo: Vladamir Kasentsev (silver), Horace Ashenfelter (gold), John Disley (bronze), 1952 Olympic steeplechase medalists, Bottom Photo: Horace Ashenfelter took lead over final water jump, Vladamir Kasentsev. Photos courtesy of Jeff Benjamin.
Photo: Dedication of Horace Ashenfelter Track Invitation, Photo courtesy of Jeff Benjamin.
Photo: Tom Fleming speaking at Dedication, Photos courtesy of Jeff Benjamin.
Photo, L-R, Jorge Lopes, Tom Fleming, Horace Ashenfelter, Ken Christensen, Jeff Benjamin
Essex County Plaque, photo by Jeff Benjamin
The dedication of the Horace Ashenfelter Track in Essex County took place on October 14, 2016. Jeff Benjamin covered the event for RunBlogRun. Horace Ashenfelter’s gold medal victory and World Record run at the 1952 Olympics, a victory in an event dominated by Europeans and Soviet bloc runners in the 1950s. Horace Ashenfelter was a fine athlete, and a FBI agent. His story is one for the ages. At the wonderful age of 93, Horace Ashenfelter has been honored with the naming of the track where he completed some of his most formative workouts. That his lovely wife, Lillian, who supported him those 64 years ago, was able to enjoy the day made it even more spectacular day for a spectacular Olympian.
Photo: Jeff Benjamin, Elliott Denman, Horace Ashenfelter, John Ashenfelter, Tom Fleming
The Horace Ashenfelter Track Dedication- by Jeff Benjamin – 10/14
James Ashenfelter unveils plaque honoring his father, Horace Ashenfelter, photo by Jeff Benjamin
A great cool, crisp, sunny day for running brought out approximately 200 people to New Jersey’s Essex County Watsessing Park to honor New Jersey’s greatest living track and Field Olympian, Horace Ashenfelter.
Horace Ashenfelter, photo by Jeff Benjamin
Ashenfelter, who won the Gold Medal in the Steeplechase at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, was present today as well, looking pretty fit for his 93 years. It was on the track here in this park, 61 years ago that Ashenfelter would hone his running, hurdling and agility skills. Horace Ashenfelter shocked Soviet Champion (WR holder) Vladimir Kazantsev at Helsinki, during the Cold War era, coming off the final water barrier and pulling away to win with a time of 8:45.4 which was then, an Olympic and World record. To add to the drama at the time, Ashenfelter was working at the time for the FBI, while Kasentzev was working for the Soviet KGB!
Previous article on Horace Ashenfelter –
Now, 64 years after his Olympic victory, Ashenfelter, along with his wife Lillian, would see his beloved track be named in his honor. After a grand opening ceremony (including a rousing National Anthem sung by students from the Glenn Ridge High School Choir), longtime New Jersey runner and Glen Ridge New Jersey Councilman Dan Murphy, who was one of the leaders behind the event, spoke of Ashenfelter, the person. “His outstanding qualities and approachable personality is what makes him great,” said Murphy, who remarked also that qualities such as these are not seen very much in the sports athletes of today. Perhaps Ashenfelter’s greatest gift back to the community, according to Murphy, was the creation and naming of the annual Thanksgiving Day Race in Glen Ridge in his honor. The Ashenfelter 8K, which began with around 100 runners in 1999, has blossomed into a top-notch event, which, according to Murphy, had around 3100 runners last year.
A man and his track: Horace Ashenfelter, photo by Jeff Benjamin
The next speaker was 2:12 Marathoner and twice NYC Marathon Champion, Tom Fleming. Fleming began his speech by describing the track being dedicated behind him. “This is Horace Ashenfelter’s training ground.” Fleming then went on to describe the great athlete, noting not only his Olympic Gold medal win, but also stating that he was the 1952 Sullivan award winner, which was given annually to the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete. “Horace was also a National Champion at events from the 2-mile to the 10K”, noted Fleming.
Fleming then concluded with a personal anecdote, recalling that as a 17 year old he had found out that one of his competitors was Ashenfelter’s son Tommy. “When someone told me his father was a Gold Medalist, I didn’t believe it,” Fleming recounted. “So I got the address, got on my bike and rode 2 miles to Ashenfelter’s house…I was very nervous and his wife Lillian came to the door…All I said was “Hi! I’d like to see the Gold Medal!” With those in the audience laughing quite loudly, Fleming then concluded that he indeed got to hold the Gold Medal. “I saw it, I held it, and I still get excited today…He motivated me!”
The ceremony then concluded with final remarks from Ashenfelter’s son James. “My family and I are very grateful,” began his son, as James also noted that his father almost made the 1948 Team and did make the 1956 team. “Dad’s brother Bill also ran in the 1952 Games as he finished 2nd behind my dad in the Steeple Olympic Trials,” James said. James also mentioned how Horace, along with brothers Bill and Don, all ran for Penn State. “They were also members on a victorious 4 X 1 Mile relay race…3 out of the 4 were brothers!”
In conclusion, James noted that,”My father still comes here and does some jogging to this day…This is home for him.”
Final Lap- After the ceremony a post race party was hosted by Paul Brewster, the owner of the Fitzgerald’s 1928 restaurant in Glenn Ridge…Another New Jersey Olympian was present as well, as 1956 Racewalker and Runblogrun’s Senior Writer Elliot Denman at the ceremony!
TRIVIA QUESTION which couldn’t be solved at today’s dedication- Is Horace Ashenfelter America’s Oldest Living Track & Field Gold medalist? No one was quite sure….
FACT, FICTION, OR LEGEND??
According to son James, his father once claimed that his teammate and friend Curt Stone once joined him on the track here in Watsessing Park where they preceded to race one another over 5K, each holding their stopwatches in their hands. He claims Ashenfelter and Stone tied at the end, but both watches showed they had each broken the world record!!
Let you, the reader be the judge!!