Happy 94th Birthday, Horace Ashenfelter! (from Archives, RunBlogRun January 2017)


Originally posted on January 23, 2017

Reposted on January 7, 2018

Horace Ashenfelter died on January 6, 2018, at the wonderful age of 94. Horace Ashenfelter won the Olympic steeplechase in 1952, the first and last American male to do such an thing. In his honor, we are reposting several pieces on this wonderful man, classmate of our late editor, James Dunaway, and former FBI agent, Penn State grad, and winner of 18 AAU national titles, from cross country to 10k.

Horace Ashenfelter is one of my favorite American athletes of all times. In 1952, this man won the Olympic gold medal in the steeplechase, in an upset that is hard to understand in today's world. Ashenfelter's final water barrier made the difference, a skill he learnt from one of Emil Zatopek's training partners the day before the final. Things did not fare well for Zatopek's training partner, who was never allowed out of country again to race, but that, is another story.

IMG_0946.JPGHorace Ashenfelter relaxing at his New Jersey home with Max.
(Photo by Tom Ashenfelter 1/21/17)

Enjoy this wonderful piece on Horace Ashenfelter, and see how our thespian uses the world, 'gloaming'.

January 23rd, 2017

Today Horace Ashenfelter III celebrates his 94th birthday. You young whippersnappers may ask, "Horace who?" While Ashenfelter has lived a full, robust, and multi-faceted life, he is best known as the upset winner of the 1952 Olympic steeplechase - the Helsinki champion of the longest track event not won by Emil Zatopek.

Back in the day, the Penn State athlete captured 3 NCAA titles and won 15 individual AAU Championships. A frequent competitor at New York's Armory, Ashenfelter was a 5-time winner of the Millrose Games 2-mile run and was ultimately inducted into the Millrose Games Hall of Fame in 2001.

When he wasn't training or racing, Ashenfelter worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation where he served as a U.S. special agent. His FBI service and his skill as a distance runner prompted apocryphal tales - such as the yarn that Ashenfelter was the first American spy to allow himself to be chased by a Russian.

The World War II veteran is still vigorous as he heads into his mid-90's, according to Tom Ashenfelter, one of his sons, a physician, and who was a notable middle distance runner in his own right while at Yale. Along with Lillian, his wife of over 70 years, the senior Ashenfelter lives in in Glen Ridge, New Jersey in a home he and Lillian have occupied since 1950. While most of his aerobic exercise is undertaken on the stationary bike in his home, occasionally the Olympic gold medalist laces up his training flats for a little jog. "Dad still runs - or 'shuffles around' as he calls it,' marvels Dr. Ashenfelter. "Heck, he played a round of golf just before Thanksgiving."

Ashenfelter's ties to his alma mater remain strong. In 2001, Penn State University honored perhaps its most revered track athlete by dedicating its new, state-of-the-art indoor track in his name. His grandson Will Ashenfelter - a soccer star who didn't turn to track until his junior year in high school - carries on the Ashenfelter track tradition at State College where the Nittany Lion freshman is a blossoming middle-distance performer.

Now in the gloaming of his life, Ashenfelter has always been able to maintain a balanced perspective - much like the great Roger Bannister who to this day considers his middle distance prowess as secondary to his decorated career in medicine. The former Olympic steeplechase champion, like the first sub-four minute miler, views his track body of work as an important, but not an all-encompassing aspect of his life. "Unlike a number of self-promoting athletes of today, Dad has always viewed his track success as an accomplishment of which he is proud - but not the pinnacle of his life."

horace ashenfelter.jpgHorace Ashenfelter, photo courtesy of FBI.gov.

Real lions - especially real Nittany Lions - don't have to roar. The track accomplishments of Horace Ashenfelter are worthy of admiration. But the 1952 Olympic champion's outlook on life may be even more so. Dave Hunter

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